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Beyond Basic Needs: Volunteers Bring Fun Into To The Mix At North Texas Hurricane Shelters

Courtney Collins
Diamond Compton, 9 and brother Josiah Anderson, 6 enjoy ice cream at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center shelter. They evacuated to North Texas from Port Arthur.

More than 3,000 evacuees are sheltering in North Texas. Sleeping on cots and recycling the same clothes every few days can be a grind.

At one Dallas shelter, just a few days before it closed, volunteers were bringing fun.

On a sweltering Texas afternoon, Lewis Hollweg decided to sweeten the deal at the Walnut Hill recreation center.

“I have an ice cream truck out here for a few hours,” he said. “That's a little thing."

It wasn't such a little thing to the swarm of kids enjoying the treats. The truck was parked outside the hurricane shelter for hours, and there was no cap on the fun.

Think of an open bar – with popsicles.

"It's hot! And you're going to want something to cool you off,” said Diamond Compton, a nine year old from Port Arthur.

Diamond and her little brother Josiah Anderson have been back for seconds, and thirds – and may have lost count actually.

“More than one. More than 10 actually,” she said. “I had three more than six.”

That's just the reaction Lewis Hollweg was hoping for. Hollweg, a psychologist in the neighborhood, up and decided to hire an ice cream truck off the internet and send it to a hurricane shelter.

“Well, I walked in here and I watched. People are dislocated, they're lonely, there's nothing to do in there,” he said. “I mean people are trying, but what do you do all day? Well one thing you can do is eat a little ice cream in the afternoon."

And the ice cream is just one example of how evacuees are passing the time. Volunteers handed out McDonald’s gift cards that afternoon, and the Dallas Zoo sent over a bundle of free tickets. Southern Methodist University comped evacuees to its football home opener over the weekend, and the Nasher Sculpture Center as well as the Perot Museum of Nature and Science will welcome evacuees at no charge until the last shelter in town shuts its doors for good.

Diamond and Josiah's mom, Daphne Griffin, couldn’t get over it.

“We're thinking about staying in Dallas – because of the community,” Griffin said. “They come together, and we've never seen anything like it before.”

The volunteers said they know that being away from home, and not knowing what comes next, is tough. For the kids here, sugar rushes from sour swirl and cotton candy ice cream bars make the ordeal a bit sweeter.

As of Monday, the Walnut Hill shelter has closed, and those evacuees have been moved over to the mega-shelter at the Dallas Convention center. More than 2,800 people are being housed there.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.