LA GRANGE – Back in 2012, La Grange resident Jack Kielczynski drove a truck full of supplies to Long Island to help victims of Super Storm Sandy, and in 2016, he did the same thing for residents of Baton Rouge, La., when the city was hit with devastating floods. And after seeing the destruction in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, he knew he had to help once again.
Kielczynski, 72, and his friend, La Grange resident Robert Trader, loaded up two trucks full of supplies and donations, and drove them down to Texas to help first responders and victims of the destructive storm.
“I look at those families, whose homes are filled with water, and everything they have is gone, and I knew I had to do something to help,” said Kielczynski, a retired police officer. “If people need help, I’m here. I’m happy to be able to help people. If one truckload can help 20 families, then that’s all I need.”
The two men began collecting donations Sept. 5 and quickly filled one 26-foot truck before adding a second 15-foot truck. Westfield Ford in Countryside provided the trucks and helped cover the fuel costs. Several of their employees also volunteered to help sort and load the donations.
The trucks were parked in an empty lot on Joliet Road that's owned by the city of Countryside before the men left for Texas on Sept. 9. They were sent to a small town about three hours south of Houston, where residents were still in need of supplies to help them recover from the intense flooding left from Harvey, which hit the east coast of Texas on Aug. 25.
Friends and family of the men, as well as community members, donated vacuums, nonperishable food, water, cleaning supplies, baby food and diapers, and gift cards. Trader, 47, said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of all the people who donated goods.
“The outpouring has been fantastic. People see the devastation, hopelessness and pain these people are feeling and their hearts opened,” he said. “This transcends politics. We’re all getting together to help. It’s Americans helping Americans. It’s amazing.”
Not only are Trader and Kielczynski hoping to help the residents of Texas, but the first responders as well. Trader said he thinks they’re often forgotten about in situations like this.
“They’re usually the last to get supplies and they help us tremendously, and we feel that by helping them helps everybody,” Trader said. “When things like this happen, people come together. It’s amazing how people come out of the woodwork to help people they don’t even know.”
Trader said he hopes to coordinate another donation drive and trip to Florida in a few weeks after Hurricane Irma battered the state Sept. 10.
“It’s too early to formulate a plan because it’s too soon to know what the most affected areas are. I’d love to help the people affected by Irma,” he said.