To Nicole Richert, her big, dry Houston house in the midst of Hurricane Harvey meant one thing: opening her door to stranded strangers at a local Shell gas station.
On Monday, the 41-year-old children’s pastor at Fairfield Baptist Church ferried 11 people, 6 dogs and a cat to her spacious five-bedroom home (with four bathrooms).
“We were willing to put people wherever,” says Richert, a married mom of three sons (including one, Riley, just drafted as a pitcher by the Los Angeles Dodgers).
“I wasn’t even a little bit nervous about having strangers come and stay,” she says. “It was ‘see a need, meet a need.’ We didn’t even hesitate.”
That cold and rainy day, Richert was pulling into the Shell station when her aunt called and said a friend of a friend of a friend was stuck at a gas station. It was the one Richert had pulled into.
“All she knew was that her name was Judy and she was with her husband and a neighbor,” says Richert. “So I walked around the gas station saying, ‘Does anyone know a Judy?’ “
Richert found Judy, her husband and their neighbor, Patsy Rae Creighton, a 64-year-old grandmother, and took them to her home.
Richert and her family would come back again and again until every one of the dozen or so people displaced by the storm were either in her home or found a place to go.
This includes Cynthia Avalos, 39, her husband and their 15-year-old son, Justin. They arrived with their six dogs (including three dachshund puppies) via a tractor that took them from waist-high flood waters gushing through their home.
As the family stood at the Shell station, “I wondered where are we going to end up? What will happen to us?” Avalos recalls.
“And someone comes up to us and says, ‘Do you want to come with us?’ I was like ‘Really? You only see three dogs and I have three more,’ and they said, ‘We don’t care. We have plenty of space.’ “
At the Richerts’ house that night, Nicole served up a dinner of cornbread and chili.
In the days that followed, the group has shared many more meals and prayers, long talks and news-watching sessions.
“It’s unexplainable,” says Creighton, “we are all kindred, like a little blended family.”
Creighton, who retired from the Army after an almost 33-year career, recently moved to Houston to be close to her son and grandchildren.
She fled her flooded home on Sunday to her neighbors’ house and doesn’t yet know the extent of its damage.
Richert has told Creighton he can stay as long as likes.
“Nicole is amazing,” says Creighton, crying. “You don’t see people like that, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like her.
“Her spirit is so genuine; if this is how angels are, she must be one. She is a godsend.”
Adds Avalos: “She makes everything seem easier. Who opens their house to total strangers with six dogs? I have no words for it.”
Richert, meanwhile, doesn’t think what she and her family are doing is such a big deal.
“I don’t feel I am giving anything,” she says. “It makes my life a bit more rich.”