Our Kind of People

St. Martin students took action for Texas because ‘it was like it was in Katrina’

Students at St. Martin High School have adopted a high school flooded in Rockport, Texas, because they know the small town sits in Houston’s shadow after Hurricane Harvey, as the Mississippi Coast sat in the shadow of New Orleans after Katrina.

“Twelve years ago today, we thought Biloxi, Ocean Springs — the Mississippi Coast — would never be the same,” St. Martin Principal Dina Holland said Tuesday morning, standing in front of a growing display of school supplies and personal hygiene products her students are donating for Rockport.

“It’s better. It’s better. People pulled together and rebuilt. It just takes time and you have to be patient.”

“We haven’t forgotten. We will never forget.”

Holland knew her students would respond when disaster struck southeast Texas. They always do. The spacious lobby filled to overflowing with school supplies for Petal students after a devastating January tornado.

Sure enough, St. Martin senior Juliana Heise messaged her principal Sunday afternoon, wanting to know what they could do for Texas. Heise’s mom grew up in Texas and had dear friends trapped — not once but twice — in floodwaters in Rockport.

Heise did some research. She found Rockport-Fulton High School, closed because the area will be without power for two to four weeks and the school is damaged, according to a post on the school Facebook page.

Much like Mississippi Coast towns, Rockport is nestled on a bay behind a string of barrier islands on the Gulf of Mexico.

“They’ve lost everything,” Heise said. “It’s like it was in Katrina. It’s complete devastation.”

A plan emerged in those Sunday afternoon messages. The principal and her students set three goals for their relief effort.

▪  A $25 gift card for each teacher for classroom supplies.

▪  Hygiene bags for each of the 950 students, plus book bags filled with school supplies for at least 250.

▪  A special plan still being conceived to brighten the faculty and students’ Christmas holidays.

Holland and her students are hoping they collect enough supplies to fill a rental U-Haul truck. They’re going to bring in donations, and accept them from residents, until roadways to Rockport are passable.

Holland said her message about donations went out only 30 minutes before senior Madison Jumonville started sending pictures of the supplies she was buying at Walmart.

“Our students,” the principal said, “they are amazing. I don’t have to say, ‘We are going to do something.’ ”

Details about the drive are posted on the high school’s Facebook page.

The students were so young when Hurricane Katrina hit, they remember only parts of the devastation. Heise said her family evacuated to Orlando ahead of the 2005 monster. She was 5 years old.

One memory of their return remains clear. She stood in what was left of her family’s home and looked up at the stars. The roof had been ripped off.

Holland tears up at the memory of donated hygiene bags that arrived at St. Martin High when the school reopened after Katrina. It was like Christmas for the students.

The power was still out. At home, Holland said, she took a shower under a garden hose, in the yard after dark, using donated shampoo and soap.

For this principal and students, the memories lead to Rockport and what they know the students and faculty at Rockport-Fulton High are facing today.

Power is out in Rockport, so the students and faculty there probably do not even know what is going on at St. Martin High School. But they will. There’s no doubt in Holland’s mind the soaring lobby at St. Martin, built with $42 million from FEMA after Katrina, will fill to capacity.

“We felt like we were the stepchildren after Katrina,” Holland said. “We don’t want that to happen to Rockport, being overlooked.”

“We’re going to be their champion. We’re going to try.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

Help St. Martin students give

St. Martin students are collecting donations for faculty and students at Rockport-Fulton High School in Texas. The town of Rockport was devastated by Hurricane Harvey and the school is currently closed.

What they’re collecting: Book bags to fill with binders, folders, pencils, college-ruled paper, highlighters, index cards, markers, pens and white-out for at least 250 students; personal hygiene kits for all 950 students, including shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, face wash, deodorant, body spray, combs/brushes, fingernail clippers, tweezers, nail polish, lotion, and soap/body wash.

Drop-off points:

  • St. Martin High School, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, 11300 Yellow Jacket Road, St. Martin; for questions or other arrangements, call 228-875-8418, ext. 601. If there is no answer, try again
  • Seymour law firm, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, 14507 Lemoyne Boulevard, St. Martin.

About the series

Our Kind of People is a feature in the Sun Herald and at SunHerald.com that spotlights South Mississippi people whose life or work is an inspiration to others.