Deacon Endra Cosby is the facilities manager at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Third Ward. Cosby grew up in Chicago before moving to Minnesota and then Houston, where his brother is the pastor at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. Cosby had never experienced a hurricane before Harvey. He and his wife had just moved into a house in Pearland when the floods occurred. During the flood, Cosby recalls the challenge of trying to travel through the flood water in his neighborhood.
In his neighborhood, residents alleviated some of the flooding by digging in a nearby retention pond to allow more space. Cosby’s house escaped flooding because it was higher off the road. His biggest fear during the storm was losing power. Once Cosby was able to travel, he helped to facilitate the distribution center that was set up at the church. He describes the initially hectic atmosphere of the church but says that his sister-in-law took charge of the operation. At one point, Mayor Turner asked the church to become a shelter, but there was not enough space. Once the distribution center opened, truckloads of supplies began arriving from churches and organizations around the country. Cosby says that the purpose of the distribution center was to continue giving aid as long as people continued to give supplies. Also, just a few weeks after Hurricane Harvey, the church sent some of its supplies to Puerto Rico to aid recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria. Part of the reason that the distribution center stayed open for months after Harvey was because Cosby and others noticed a need in the community, even among those not affected by the flood. The mission of the distribution center was to help those in need without questioning why they needed help. The conversation ends with Cosby talking about the contributions that his sister-in-law, Ms. Gloria Rose, made to the church’s recovery efforts.
Interviewee: Deacon Endra Cosby
Interview Date: August 24, 2018
Interviewer: Sherridan Schwartz, Todd Romero
INTERVIEWER: I’m Sherridan Schwartz. And today is August 24, 2018, Friday. And I’m conducting an interview for the Center for Public History here at U of H.
SS: And I would just like you to, if you don’t mind, state your name for us — and your birthdate and age.
EC: Sure. My name is Deacon Endra Cosby, and I am 52. June 8, 1966 was my birthday.
SS: Great. So tell us a little bit about how long you’ve been here. And it’s a fascinating story about how you got here — where you’re from. Tell us a little bit about your background.
EC: So I am — we’ve been here — my wife and I have been here since August — I’m sorry, since July 17, 2015. And I started working here August 24, 2015. And [0:01:00] how I got here — my brother is Pastor Cosby. And so I had some unfortunate circumstances in Minnesota where we were living at — and so came down here for the anniversary — for his 10-year anniversary, I think it was. And he was like, “Man, you should come down. You should come down here.” And I was like, “I don’t want to be the other Cosby, you know? I don’t want to be the other Cosby.” But again, some things happened in Minnesota with my other job. And it was like, “Okay, you know, is this is sign? Is God saying, ‘Okay, move,’ right?” So it was a good move for us. It was a good move for my family and I — came down, started working. My wife is a — works in the medical field. She’s a — I always chop the name up, so I say EEG tech, but she monitors brain activity for epileptic patients [0:02:00]. And so she had a job two years — a year and a half before we got here over Skype. They interviewed her, so it was really interesting. So — and I started working here at the church as the facilities manager. And it has been very busy to say the least. We’re a busy church. It’s a busy church. And we do a lot. We do a lot. We do a lot for the community. We do a lot for — we have a lot of services. It’s just a lot. So when the hurricane came, it was — you know just what we do.
SS: If I can ask, did you grow up in Chicago as well?
EC: I did. I did.
SS: And so you were in Chicago, and you take life’s journey to get to Minnesota.
EC: I did, yes. So I grew up in Chicago — 119th and Yale [0:03:00]. We — south side, that’s correct. South side, Rosen area. We went to Emmanuel Baptist Church. And Pastor Curry was our pastor. My mom is here also now — so went to Minnesota, cheapest bus ticket. Chicago was just — nothing was happening, so cheapest bus ticket. My brother was still in school at home with mom. So it’s like, “I’m out of here.” Fortunately, ironically, I met my wife in Minnesota at church. She’s from Chicago — same place. We probably — I’m sure we crossed paths. You know what I mean? I’m pretty sure we crossed paths.
Here’s why. The interesting part about that is — so we were dating. And she invited me to a friend of hers wedding — went to her wedding. People who were in the wedding and did some [0:04:00] speaking at the wedding, I went to grammar school with them. So I was like, “Oh, I know him. Oh, I know her.” You know? She’s like, “How you know them?” I was like, “Well, I went to school with them, you know.” So it was just really crazy. So it was almost like it was just meant to be, you know. So it was just meant to be — so my wife and I — to be married. We have one child. I have three daughters — three grandboys. What else? Yeah.
SS: Well, coming from Chicago and then being in Minnesota, I’m sure you’ve seen some winter storms.
EC: Oh, yeah.
SS: But had you ever been through a hurricane or anything like it? And tell us what it’s like for someone who had never been in it — never experienced something like that, a tropical storm.
EC: It was — it was literally crazy for us. We had just built a home. We just built a home in Pearland — old Pearland right off Dixie Farm Road. And it really made my [0:05:00] wife nervous. We didn’t get any damage. We had — the damage that we received — some water came through the vent in the restroom. And water — we didn’t even get any flooding. I think the water came to the sidewalk, but we actually sit on an incline, which is good. But again, my wife is in the medical field, so she had to go down to work. And she was — she’s on a recovery team during natural disasters. She could not get to work, and so, you know, I’m going crazy, because I can’t get to work — couldn’t get out of Pearland. And every route — we were calling people, trying to get here. And it was — it was just a — it was really difficult. And my wife was very nervous because of — you know, you hear the stories of people driving through the water. Now, I have a van — an SUV, and you know, I’m [0:06:00] — I like to say I’m pretty fearless — pretty much, you know. I mean, I’m — you know, nothing much kind of gets to me. So I —
SS: From south side.
EC: From south side. I was trying — I’m trying to navigate the water. And I — you know, I’m not going to tell you my wife doesn’t curse, but she definitely cursed this day. You know what I mean? She’s like, “You know, this is not worth it. Take me home.” So I had to go back home. I had to take her home. And again, you know, I knew the church had — we didn’t receive any damage, per se. Some — you know, little leaks — few leaks, but I had to get here. You know, my guys were here. And you know, they took some photos of stuff and sent it to me. And I just needed to know what was going on. And so needless to say, it didn’t happen until the water receded. And my wife didn’t go to work until the water receded.
So she couldn’t get in, so it was [0:07:00] — it was scary. It was scary from the aspect of seeing it, because we didn’t experience any flooding. Or we didn’t have to evacuate or any of those kinds of things. And we were fortunate. We were blessed as a result of that. My mom — I think my brother — my mom was at my brother’s house. And that was good, and they got some high water but no flooding. So it was — it was — we were very fortunate. And as a result, church was very fortunate as well.
SS: How many days was it before you guys could really navigate and get here? Because even those who weren’t affected by the flood were still stranded in a way.
EC: Yeah, couldn’t move around. So I’d say it was about four days, five days — about four, five days. You know, luckily, we were able to get to the — so Dixie Farm Road had also flooded.
EC: And our — we live in a cul de sac [0:08:00]. It’s 40 houses in the cul de sac. And as a result of Dixie Farm Road flooding, the water was, you know, coming in. And the drainage — it was just so much water. It was hard to keep up for the drain. So we have a retention pond in front of the house. And the neighbors and all of our neighbors were out there — very good group of neighbors. So we had to dig in the retention pond to get the water to recede. So it was — and it was interesting, because I didn’t — you know, I’m not an engineer. So I was like, “Okay, you sure you guys know what y’all doing? You know what I mean? So I’ll help, but I’m not going to be in-it in it.”
So that allowed the water to recede from the street. And of course, from Dixie Farm Road, it — after it stopped raining, it eventually receded. So we were able to get to Walmarts [0:09:00], gas station — you know, ate a lot of donuts and kolaches. You know? Because the donut shop was like the only one open. You know what I mean? So it was really kind of — kind of interesting. But it took about four days — about four, five days, I’d have to say, yeah.
SS: As a new homeowner in a city that you’d only recently moved in, what additional fears did you have? You don’t know. I know those first eight to twelve hours I thought, “Okay, now, this rain is going to stop, right?”
SS: How did that feel as a new homeowner?
EC: That was — that was — you know, we didn’t — I didn’t — my biggest fear was I didn’t want to lose power. And I didn’t want water coming in my house. That was — my fear was, “Do we need to –?” I had plenty of water to drink. We had plenty of food. You know, we were okay. I didn’t want to lose power. I think that was my biggest thing.
And you know, we’re in Pearland [0:10:00]. And not that we don’t have friends that way, but it was — I mean, you were nervous. You can’t drink all that water. You know what I mean? I didn’t want to — you know, I can’t drink all that water. I didn’t want to lose — you know, we just purchased a home. It was — I think my consolation was we sat up. We were up on an incline. So I wasn’t fearful in that respect. I was more concerned about, you know, my family, my brother and his family. I think we had some other friends who did experience some loss. But I really wanted to — I was trying to get to work. I really was. You know, I was getting bored, because we can only be in the house so long. You know, my son and I — my son — we got pictures of my son walking in the water in front of the house. You know, that kind of stuff [0:11:00], so I was in the garage a lot. You know, we was — it just got boring, you know, more than anything.
SS: What were your thoughts? You mentioned you had people here on site even before you were here. So how big is your staff? How big of a staff does it take to run a mini-campus like this?
EC: We need to be in — I need to have my boss here while we’re answering that question.
SS: Okay, I’m sorry.
EC: No, no, but we have — it’s two other guys and myself. But we also have some contractors that come in and help us out. None of those guys were able to get here. But the two — my two other staff members — my co-workers, they were able to get here and assess the damage of the church. That was the biggest thing. We just didn’t want to be — we wanted to have service. Obviously, church was canceled that Sunday. That first Sunday, church was canceled [0:12:00] just because we had water in the parking lot that was — that was really high. Fortunately, we — in the new parking lot, we have some — it’s almost like retention ponds as well, so the water drains really well — but not in this parking lot. Even on Scott, the water was really high — the initial two nights. Yeah, yeah, it was truck — door-truck level, so. It’s two of us, and how many people does it take to run a campus? You know, to be honest with you, five, six people, but it’s three of us. And we run the campus, and I think we do a good job. Bathrooms are clean.
SS: You do a great job.
TR: An important measure.
SS: Great job. That is —
EC: Bathrooms clean, that means the kitchen is clean, you know, so.
SS: That is — that’s an important job. That’s always been a good rule of thumb.
EC: Exactly, exactly.
SS: As the person in charge of the facilities, what were you first [0:13:00] thoughts? When you first heard about the hurricane, how was this — in your two or three years, I guess, of being here, we had the Tax Day flood. We had the Memorial Day storms. When did you start realizing that Harvey was going to be a little different even from the storms you’d seen over the last couple of years?
EC: Listening to the news. Listening to the news. I think — you know, and I really want — it was more about — for me, it’s raining, okay. Again, we sitting up, so I’m good. I’m feeling — I’m feeling really good. The Tax Day storm and the Memorial Day storm, we were in the apartment. And we were on the third flood. So I was good. You know, I felt good about those things. So I just couldn’t get out — couldn’t move around. What was the question? I’m sorry. The last part?
SS: When did you start just getting that sense? You said the news kind of gave you the idea that this one was a little bit different.
EC: Yeah, you know, the news was very — although informative [0:14:00], it was — it was detrimental, too. You know what I mean? Because you know, all — they’re only talking about the tragedies, you know, and it was — and those things that are — so my wife was like glued to the TV. And my wife was very nervous. So you know, I’m like, “Kim, just turn the TV off. Come on. Let’s walk around.” You know what I mean? Because we are okay. You know, and of course, we’re concerned about other people, but we’re okay — you know, self-preservation. You know, it was one of those first rules of law, you know, so I was just — I think the — for me, watching the TV was tough. That was tough, because you saw a lot of — you know, the — I remember specifically the guy walking through the water on one of the highways with his son.
EC: You remember that?
SS: Iconic [0:15:00], yes.
EC: Yeah, it was like, “Wow.” You know what I mean? The highway on the expressway and the water is, you know, waist —
SS: To the [unclear, 0:15:08].
EC: Yeah, you know what I mean? So it’s like that was scary to see. And you know, I’m grateful. You know, I’m just grateful that wasn’t us. You know, I’m grateful that wasn’t us. I remember going through that water, you know, trying — attempting to go through that water. And my wife letting the windows down and fear in her eyes. So I was like, “Okay, let’s turn around and go home.”
SS: What kind of preparations did you have to make for the church when initially we thought this was going to be a bad storm? Is there anything that you had to do differently?
EC: Well, we — well, we didn’t — we didn’t — no, it was nothing that we could do other than to send people home. And of course, my staff and I were the last to leave. No, I take that back. Brother [0:16:00] Umstead and his — he had a person up here. And she was actually stuck here, Ms. Ellison. She was actually stuck in the sanctuary — and Brother Umstead as well. Of course, she did get out, but they couldn’t leave until Scott Street receded. And that water — he sent pictures, and I remember that vividly. He sent pictures of the water — of the fire station, the parking lot, and a truck sitting in front of TSU’s parking lot there. And the water was door-high. So that was our reality. And you know, of course, again, Ms. Ellison was able to eventually go home. She didn’t have a lot of food. I think that was one of the things that she was — her major concern.
SS: And even being from this neighborhood, one of the things we said growing up — we talked about this when — as Reverend Lawson founded the church [0:17:00], Third Ward traditionally did not flood.
SS: It was always pretty high. And we don’t have a lot of ditches. We have pretty solid, you know, foundations here. So this was really scary. It was scary to see the water on Scott and to see the water come up to the bayous certainly for us.
SS: One of the things that we’ve been talking about is how Wheeler reacted once we realized this city was going to be impacted so severely. And Wheeler set up one of the most comprehensive relief centers.
EC: Yes, we did.
SS: Certainly that I had seen in my experience. And can you tell us a little bit about what it was like? I described it earlier as I just peeked, and it looked like a Costco. That’s what I say to me, on the outside. What was it like to transform a multipurpose place in a church, often used for things like overflow, into a literal distribution center that people [0:18:00] were relying on for any kind of goods that they can think of?
EC: It was — it was very hectic, yeah, in the interim. Because — so here’s — our experience was this. You got four, five people saying this, this, this, and this. So we had to say — I remember specifically my guy — my guy, Calvin, saying, “Okay, hold on. Who are we listening to?” You know, that was the interim. Our first lady, my sister-in-law, Audrey, Sister Cosby, was very — and Sister Andrea were very instrumental in setting it up. “Put the tables here. Put the tables here. Put the tables here.” So just getting the flow of things, that was the most difficult part, because that first two or three days [0:19:00], we’re changing things. We’re changing things.
TR: Because you’re realizing —
EC: This is not working.
SS: Getting the logistics [unclear, 0:19:11]?
EC: Yeah, we had to get the logistics right. You know what I mean? So I mean, we had hundred-fifty tables in there. That’s — we don’t have a hundred-fifty tables. You know what I mean? To put in there. The reason that we had those tables available was our men’s breakfast was supposed to be that weekend. You remember that?
SS: Right, okay.
EC: And we had ordered tables.
SS: This was August.
EC: Yeah. And we — it was — and we — no, it was first of September.
EC: And we used — when was the hurricane? Wasn’t it August?
SS: Last week of August.
TR: Yeah, it was in August.
EC: Yeah, last week of August.
SS: Last of August, it felt like.
EC: Last of August, so yeah — so we had the tables for that men’s breakfast. Obviously, it was canceled. So we had those tables and kept those tables. And we just — we were able to [0:20:00], you know, make it happen. We just made it happen. Pastor Cosby, First Lady very instrumental in, “Hey, we got to — we have to do something. What can we do?” So you know, Pastor Cosby travels a lot. He was stuck. He was actually stuck wherever he was at. He was stuck, and he couldn’t get in. And it bothered him that he couldn’t get in. You know, it really — you know, he was not in a good space. We met very often during that time. But anyway, yeah, so logistically, it was crazy. So we started getting calls from Salvation Army. We started getting calls — so I remember the mayor’s office calls and wanted us to be a shelter. Okay, that was cool. I mean, we could be a shelter. However [0:21:00], logistically, that’s just not — that wasn’t a good fit. We weren’t large enough there. We just not large enough in that space.
SS: The convention center wasn’t large enough.
EC: Yeah, it wasn’t large enough for that, so we opted to not be involved in that and become a distribution center.
EC: So of course, we reached out to the congregation and Salvation Army, Red Cross, and everybody — once it started — I mean, Pastor Cosby obviously travels around the country. And I tell you, we got so much stuff. We were shown so much love. I mean, this — 18-wheeler trucks just coming in, just coming in, just coming in. And we literally were like [0:22:00], “Okay, where are we going put this stuff?” You know what I mean? So we just — we just made it happen. We started pulling pallets inside. We start — across the street, we — Cenikor. We work really closely with Cenikor as one of our contractors. And we do some weekend stuff. You know, we believe in helping those brothers and sisters who are less fortunate than others. So we had, I know, a hundred and fifty of Cenikor persons through that time period come through here. And now, they love it. That’s members who go to church here now. You know what I mean? Because — as a result of that.
But we really did put it together really well. We just made it work. It was — it was crazy, but we made it work. People from all of over the country were sending us truckloads of material, valuable soap products, kids’ clothes [0:23:00], women’s clothes, men’s clothes, hygiene, toothpaste, all kinds of — food. I mean it was literally a Costco. It was literally a Costco.
SS: How did you figure out how to get these pallets of goods? Because it was like truckloads of goods. Did you ever think you’d be doing shipping and receiving and overseeing that?
EC: Never, never, never. We got — ASCO is one of our vendors. And I think they donated — I don’t think they donated anything, but they did reduce the cost of forklifts, pallets, those kinds of things — pallet jacks, those kinds of things. So we have a storage unit across the street.
EC: And we literally had our storage unit packed with non-perishables — no food, but Pampers [0:24:00], water, cots. We had 750 cots we had to go get from some airport out here in Katy. And you know, these — I mean, people were very generous to us. And there were times where, I have to tell you, we were like, “Okay, when is this going to stop? When is this over?” Pastor Cosby, being who he is, said to me — he said, “Wheeler Avenue has been in existence for over 50 years.” He say, “And as long as people are giving, we’re going to give. As long as we keep getting, we’re going to give. As long as we keep getting, we going to give.” The Bible says, “Give, it shall be given unto you in good measure, pressed down, shaken together [0:25:00], overrunning, will men give into your bosom.”
SS: That’s right.
EC: That was literally the case — I mean, literally, the case. We had trucks lining up. I’ve never — you know, to your point, I never had to be shipping — overseeing shipping and receiving. And I was overseeing shipping and receiving. We had to get containers that — we literally had enough stuff to when Haiti experienced their tragedy and their natural —
SS: Just a couple weeks later.
EC: Couple of weeks later, we sent four pallets — two pallets to Haiti and two pallets to —
SS: Puerto Rico?
EC: Puerto Rico. It was not Haiti. It wasn’t Haiti. It was Puerto Rico that experienced their deal. We sent two containers full [0:26:00] — 40-foot containers full to Puerto Rico and then to another place — another one of the Caribbeans. It was in the Caribbean. But it was just — we had an experience. My sister and I were standing. And we were — you know, because everybody was not affected by Harvey. And they were coming. People were coming, lining up. And you start seeing the same faces. It’s like getting to know —
SS: Recipients, the recipients.
EC: Recipients, you start getting to know who people are, right? And my sister-in-law, myself, people were frustrated with seeing the same people. So you like, “Okay, is this greed or whatever?” But there was a lady. I can’t remember the city. It was a white lady, and I can’t remember the city she was from in Texas. But she said to us — it was crazy. My sister-in-law [0:27:00] just broke out crying. She said to us, “This may not have been — they may not have been affected by Harvey. But there’s a need.” And my sister-in-law just lost it. You know what I mean? And it was — it was like, okay, that new perspective. It’s like, “We’re a church. This is what we do.” You know, and I’m telling you, it was crazy. I’m standing outside talking to my brother right in front of the distribution center. It was at night. We were closing up. He was — I think he was picking up his wife and his kids. And he talked about how the more you give, the more you get. The more you give, the more you get. And he talked about, you know, when you give, you get, alright?
And literally, I got — he say — he said — we wanted to shut it down. We wanted to [0:28:00] — “Okay, let’s — we’re done. You know, it’s over with, right?” And my brother said to me — he say, “Man, why would we shut this down when people are steady giving us stuff?” He said, “Why would we do that? I’m not — we’re not going to shut it down. This is what we’re going to do. We going to keep giving. We going to keep giving. And the more we give, the more we get. The more we give, the more we get. This is what Wheeler Avenue does.” “Okay, little brother.” This is my little brother. You know what I mean? I’m like, “Okay, little brother — pastor, you know, no problem, so.” I mean, it was a — I mean, it was across the country. I mean, everybody just kept sending and bringing and giving. He would be preaching somewhere, and they putting checks in his hand. “Here, man. Here, man. Here, man.” And still to this day, we’re giving money to people affected by Hurricane Harvey.
SS: One year later [0:29:00]?
EC: One year later.
SS: One year later.
EC: Whether they’re affected or not, there’s a need. And that hit us like right here.
SS: You mentioned that, of course, your little brother pastors this incredible church.
SS: Now, of course, you knew it was a big church. You knew it was an important church.
SS: Did you have a sense of what kind of relationships Wheeler had across the country?
EC: I did not.
SS: Before you were here? Before something like this?
EC: No, I knew that my brother was a powerful, prominent preacher. I knew that. I knew that he loves the Lord. He knows the word of God. I know that. I had no idea it was this big. I had no idea it was this big. And I tell my wife — I was like, “I had no idea it was this big.” I mean, and [0:30:00] we’re small. And I keep telling him, “Dude, you a mega-pastor.” “I’m not a mega-pastor.” “Dude, you a mega-pastor. Whether you believe it or not, you a mega-pastor.” But he does not want that to be who he is. He doesn’t want to be on TV. He doesn’t want all that — you know, none of that. He just wants to preach and teach and serve people of God. But you know, I have to say this. All of this is as a result of Pastor Lawson.
EC: All of this. I mean, vision. That’s — I mean, vision, man. I’m talking about vision. When you can see it before it even comes to pass, that’s Pastor Lawson. And he came through that center, the mayor — mayors from across the country [0:31:00] came into the worship center just to see what we were doing. Other people were coming, “We want to do this. We want to look and see what you all are doing.” I mean, it was literally — when I say nuts, nuts. It was nuts.
TR: So you started conversations about what you were doing here as sort of a tool kit for other churches and other disasters.
EC: Oh, absolutely. Other churches were coming here — members or leaders of those churches coming here and saying, “How are you all doing this? What are you doing?” You know what I mean, because, you know, everybody — it was very — the country was very generous — very generous. So it wasn’t just Wheeler Avenue getting these truckloads. Everybody was getting truckloads but didn’t know what to do. So they were calling us, “Hey, can you take this? Can you take that?” The Red Cross still — I got a call from a Red Cross as early [0:32:00] — as late as maybe a couple months ago. “Hey, you know what? We have some canned goods.” We weren’t necessarily taking 10-count canned goods. So unfortunately, we can’t take it. You know what I mean? But — because we don’t want to store food. So it was — it was — I mean, it was a collective effort on people outside of Houston and, you know, those agencies inside of Houston. I think — you know, it was really crazy. I think it was very competitive at some point, too, because the Red Cross and —
TR: Salvation Army?
EC: Salvation Army. It was like, “Oh, no, we’re coming. We’re coming.” You know, so it was like, okay. You know, everybody wants to — you know, everybody wants their name to be — you know, and that wasn’t what we were about. That wasn’t what we were about.
SS: And the flip side of that, it was because there were a lot of people [0:33:00] outside the community that may not have heard that. So that’s another reason why projects like this were important.
SS: Do you remember watching Katrina? I don’t know where you were or if you were in Minnesota. When you watched Katrina or saw that as the rest of the country did, did it ever occur to you that you could be living some place or in a city in some place where something similar would happen? You’d see people having to be rescued and people coming out on roofs — that it would be a part, of now, your story of something that you survived?
EC: No, ma’am. Never thought that way. I’ve been dealing with snow all my life. I’m so glad to get away from the snow. I saw everything snow-related. You know what I mean? I’m gone. Then I come up here, and I got to get, you know, a wader or boat. You know what I mean?
TR: Start missing the snow.
EC: I start missing the snow. It’s like, okay, golly, you know. It snowed up here this last time — very rare snow. I was like, “Oh, my god [0:34:00]. I don’t want to see no snow.” You know, so — no, to your point, no, no.
SS: Did you ever foresee – this is a similar question, I guess – that you personally and your team would play such an impactful role in getting things to people in need?
EC: We’ve always been a giving church. I knew that. To this magnitude, no, I did not see that. You know, we — every Juneteenth, Thanksgiving, I think — we cut it down. We stopped Thanksgiving because of Thanksgiving dinner. We stopped the distribution center right around Thanksgiving. Up to Thanksgiving — so we’re always doing something in regards to giving. But to that magnitude, I did not see that — did not know that that would ever be, you know, my reality.
SS: You were blessed because where you said you were –[0:35:00] didn’t have damage, and your area was okay. Had you not been a part of this distribution center, would you have been maybe as aware of how deep the need was for those who had true need or what a role it was that wasn’t being filled? There was a place —
EC: Okay, so would I have realized — if I’m hearing you correctly, would I have realized the magnitude of the need? Every day we operate Matthew 25, our non-profit, social services entity. Yes, I see the need, although it’s a different need. But I see the need. And it’s a real need, so I am very aware that we are [0:36:00] fortunate. My family, your family, our, us, this church is fortunate. But I don’t believe that we would be as fortunate if we were selfish. We are not a selfish church. And that’s the reason why we’re able to continue to give, continue to give, continue to give.
SS: There’s been a lot of talk lately about that sort of thing on a public level. You know, why are we subsidizing — I heard someone say, “Why are we subsidizing flood insurance in this country? People live in a place. They know it floods. Why are we subsidizing aid? Why are will still funding FEMA?” What would you tell someone in some part of the country who has never experienced anything like that? What would you tell them about why it is that you think it was important? And you, as someone [0:37:00] who helped set up a center that made the difference for so many people in this city, what would you tell them?
EC: I would say, “Walk a mile in those persons’ shoes.” I would say, “Walk a mile in those persons’ shoes.” I mean, you know, we don’t — we don’t get to pick and choose — I guess we do get to pick and choose where we live. But once we’ve made that decision, this is what happens. And you know, it snows in Minnesota, you know, from the morning to night. It snows in Chicago from morning to night. You know, that’s my reality. So you deal with it accordingly. Even here, of course, I think that there should be some things in place, of course. You know what I mean? Of course, there should not be this much flooding. You know what I mean? You know, obviously, something’s wrong.
EC: You know what I mean? So fix it. But [0:38:00] —
TR: On the front end.
EC: On the front end.
TR: On the front end, yeah.
EC: On the front end, fix it. But you know, the reality is it’s a place that floods. So you know, our responsibility, one, as people — as humans — human beings is to make sure people are good. Secondly, as a church, this is our job. Now, when I say that, I have to be honest with you. I can’t imagine — I can’t even recall how many times I heard, “Y’all, this a church. This a church. This a church.” Okay, this a church, but this what we going to do. This is what we not going to do. You know what I mean? So I — and we’ve had to have those — in love, and you know, I used — that was one of the terms that I started — “In love, we’re not going to do this. This is what we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to do it.” So I was — I made some friends, and I made some enemies. You know? You know what I’m saying [0:39:00]? I mean, that’s just how it — you know, heavy is the head. You know what I mean? So it was interesting. To say the least, it was interesting.
SS: On a public-sector angle, I was surprised at how many entities and agencies were referring people to Wheeler.
EC: That was interesting.
SS: That is. So you have a unique perspective on that, because you set something up that didn’t exist before. You got it done. You were able to make an operational series of decisions that said, “Well, these people need help. We’re going to do it this way.”
SS: What can you share with those in the public sector when they seem flabbergasted? “Well, we would love to help people. We don’t know how to do it.” “We weren’t trained for that. We weren’t expecting Harvey.”
EC: I think sometimes you just have to do respond to the need. And sometimes, you not going to always get it right. But you know, it took us a couple of days to [0:40:00] literally get it right. Sometimes, you just have to do. And you adjust. What Pastor Cosby says? We are a — we are a reaction. I don’t want to — I don’t want to misquote him. But he says things — he’ll say — in our staff meetings, he’ll say, you know, we just have to respond.
SS: We have to respond.
EC: And you know, that’s not it neither. I can’t — I had it my old phone, and I don’t think I have it in this phone. I just want to see.
SS: Well, he does love the phrase, “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver.”
EC: “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.”
SS: That is one of his phrases, and it’s true.
EC: Oh, adaptive capacity.
SS: Oh, that is very logistics.
TR: That’s a great phrase.
EC: You have to have adaptive capacity. You have [0:41:00] to be able to adapt. That’s just what it is. You know what I mean? Because this is what we have been — this is our lot. This is our lot. This is what we’re working with. And how do we adapt to that? How do we have that adaptive capacity? And it’s — you know, everybody doesn’t have it. We did a great job. We did a great job. And we had a lot of people who were willing to assist us in that. Our congregation — our senior saints — our seniors were just like — you know, sometimes they were in the way. You know, but how dare us tell them — okay, you know, Ms. Rose. Oh, man. Come on.
SS: She’s a servant leader.
EC: Hey, me and Ms. Rose have gotten extremely close as a result of saying, “Ms. Rose [0:42:00], we not doing that. We’re not.” Ms. Rose will tell you, you know?
SS: That’s what Sister Rose —
EC: Don’t mess with Ms. Rose. Ms. Rose was very instrumental. She’s owned businesses. I’m sure she told you all that. So but she has — she’s very direct, and you know what she’s going to do. You know how she’s going to do it. You know what I mean? And sometimes, you know, you got to say, “Okay, Ms. Rose. Let’s –” You know what I mean? But she runs a tight ship. She runs a tight ship, and she doesn’t do a lot of smiling. So when she smiles, you know you okay. You know what I mean? And I’ve had to — me and Ms. Rose have really had some passionate discussions [0:43:00]. And she’s been upset with me. I’ve — you know, “I’m sorry. You know I love you, Ms. Rose. You know, give me a hug, Ms. Rose.” And you know, next day, “Okay, let’s go. Ms. Rose, you buying breakfast?” You know?
SS: Since you were able to achieve something that a lot of entities weren’t able to do – some public entities, some agencies – and respond, what does that tell you about the need that existed? What does that tell you? What does it make you think, in your opinion, about — what did Harvey say about what was already happening the other 364 days before Harvey hit?
EC: That, you know, we — as a people, I think we just need to do a better job of making sure people are okay. I mean, you know, we have experienced people who — I mean, we feed the homeless. We do our feedings. We do those things. We do Juneteenth. We do Thanksgiving. And some people — some of those persons [0:44:00], this is what they want. They want to be homeless. They want to live on the street. This is what they want. They don’t want you to — they don’t want you to necessarily — they want to eat. They want, you know, to kind of — but they don’t want you to try to get them off the street. They don’t want those things. So I don’t want to get thrown off your question. I believe that you need to help — you got to meet people where they’re at. This is what they want. This is how you help them.
We have a lady who goes — I know you’ve seen her before. She’s a homeless lady — goes to church here — very talented — plays the piano, was a teacher. She chooses to be on the street. And that’s what she wants to do, so how can we help you [0:45:00]? How can we help you in this? How can we help you? What can we do for you? You know what I mean? What can we do for you? We were just feeding down at the SEARCH center today. A church every — Matthew 25, Reverend Barnes, we just fed 25, 30 people down there today. They just want to be treated like people, because they are people. You know? They just happen to be — you know, this is their — you know, this is their situation. But I’m not going to not hug you. I’m not going to not give you some dap, or I’m not going to talk crazy to you. Because this is — they people.
SS: One of the things that was said about the Harvey distribution center here specifically was that you treated — people were treated like people here. And I think that gets over — you know, it sounds very simplistic. But [0:46:00] it wasn’t about your FEMA number. It wasn’t about — it was people were treated as if they were customers shopping.
SS: People were treated as if they were not victims or — God-forbid, the term was used way too much with Katrina, refugees —
EC: Absolutely not.
SS: They were just treated as brothers and sisters who needed help.
SS: Did you realize how significant that was going to be? Did you hear that feedback?
EC: We had — of course, you know, when you’re doing something like that, there’s always going to be those persons who have other intentions. But the majority of those persons were very grateful and very much so understanding in our procedures, [0:47:00] understanding in the rules, you know, because you have to have rules. You know, they were understanding. And then you had those persons who had the — they had a — the mentality was a get-over spirit. “Guess what, man? You ain’t got to take it. Here you go. Do you need something else? Tell you what. Come back tomorrow.” So we had those issues. So it wasn’t an issue of — it wasn’t those other issues. It was, “Okay, brother. No problem. How many waters you want? No problem. Here you go. Come back next week. Don’t come back tomorrow.” You know what I mean? And we going to help you, but let somebody else get something. You know, so it was those kinds of things. And you know what? It’s not about Third Ward [0:48:00] or any other ward. It’s just about people at that point. You know, my brother would say, “So what? Okay. Did you give it to him? Okay.”
SS: You’re a new Houstonian. We’re happy you’re here, because you obviously were needed to be in the time and place you were.
SS: Even if we didn’t know, but now, we know. What would you want people to know about what Harvey says about Houston, your new city, your new adopted city? What did Harvey tell you? Or what does Harvey make you want to tell people about Houston that they may not know?
EC: Hey, we — Houston — I can say we now. I’ve been here three years. So we know how to come together when there’s a need. We really do respond well. I think we respond [0:49:00] really well as a city. And I don’t believe — you know, Mayor Turner and his office, I mean, you can’t — you know what I mean? You just don’t see that, you know. I guess I’ve never — I can’t say I don’t — you don’t see that. I’ve never experienced it to see it. But when I saw it, it’s like, “Wow, this the mayor and the police chief.” It’s like these guys ain’t playing. They serious. You know what I mean? And my wife was really impressed with the police chief. She was serious. She was really impressed with Mr. Turner — Mayor Turner because of the looting that was happening. And they was serious, “We going to lock you up.” And they was saying — my wife was like, “Yeah.” You know what I mean? Because this is not the time for that [0:50:00]. You know, have — you know what I mean? I don’t think any time would be the time, but specifically now. You know, you preying on the weaknesses, you know. So you got those type of persons, so — and my wife, she was really impressed with their response to that, you know, and what they saying on TV. Like we going to lock you up. You know what I mean? And the mayor was like, “Yeah.” You know? So that was kind of cool to me.
SS: Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about Harvey or its impact or how it affected you, even tangentially, or how you think it affected your church, your community, your city?
EC: I think — again, I can just speak from the — from my frame of reference. And my frame of reference is the church and how we respond to the needs of the people. And you know, Pastor Cosby — the mission of the church is to minister to those persons who are less fortunate than others. And that’s what we do. You know what I mean [0:51:00]? To the total person, I’m sorry. Minister to the total person. And that’s what we do, the total person — good, bad, indifferent, up, down, you know, in between, it doesn’t really matter. We’re going to minister to the total person.
You know, we just had a job fair over there today. You know, and — you know, 300 people to come through and, you know, potentially get jobs. And that’s what — that’s what we do. You know, I’m blessed to be a part of it. I’m fortunate to be a part of it. I also think they blessed because I’m here, too. So you know what I mean? I feel good about being here, because I think we do a great job. And I’m a part of doing that job.
SS: Well, when we proposed this project, I believe, from what I understood, everyone mentioned that — “If you talk about the relief center, you got to talk about what Deacon Cosby did. You got to talk about [0:52:00] — he staged this thing.”
SS: I mean, it was —
TR: You and Ms. Rose were the — you were bookends.
EC: Ms. Rose, yeah, that was my girl right there. Me and Ms. Rose, we bumped heads. But that’s my buddy now. You know, we — we clashed, but Ms. Rose is just serious about helping people. And to the point where she won’t ask for help. It’s like, “Ms. Rose?” I love her. I love Ms. Rose. And everybody else does, too. You know what I mean? Ms. Rose is — she is — she is a rose. She really is, you know — and my sister-in-law is — I’m telling you. You guys don’t — you may not know my sister-in-law. I don’t think you interviewed her, but —
SS: We would love to if you know — if you’ve got some connections, please.
TR: He could put a word in for you.
SS: Please, we would love to. It would be —
EC: I’ll let her know. I’ll let her know. I’ll have Pastor —
SS: We would love to get her story. I mean, she’s got a lot to share.
EC: Yeah, I’ll have Pastor Johnson [0:53:00] let her know. But she is — she is an excellent — “This what we doing. This is how we going to do it,” blah, blah, blah, you know? She just — and it’s natural.
EC: It’s natural. She got on my nerves this year though — just — she got on my nerves doing this Harvey thing. I’m like, “God dang, sis. Okay, First Lady.” You know?
SS: That’s when you know people are being effective — when they get under your skin.
EC: Yeah, absolutely, when they get under your skin, yeah. But she’s —
SS: People who don’t do anything don’t affect you at all.
EC: No, they don’t. You know, they really don’t. And you know — you know, we just — we respond really well as a church, man. We do. We respond well as a church. And Pastor Cosby is very instrumental in leading that charge. And he allows you to do it. That’s — you know, and that’s my little — that’s my brother, but I’m just telling you [0:54:00]. They’re blessed, because he’s here. We’re blessed.
SS: That’s without question. We know that. And when he first proposed his project, they were going to let me have a little part in participating. I was like, “Well, you got to talk to people at Wheeler.” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah. We’re on it. We’re already on it.” That was — when he immediately said it. I said, “You’re talking about community response? This church has a million stories to tell.”
EC: That’s awesome, yeah.
SS: Not just about Harvey but in the fabric of everything.
SS: And there’s some stories in there that people didn’t see on the news. So there were people sitting in the city who didn’t know Wheeler was running a virtual charity Costco.
SS: You know, out of this facility. And so that’s to be — you obviously were a part of that. And we — the city, we appreciate you. It takes transplants. It takes home-growns and transplants. This city is such a fabric of people from all over. That’s the Houston that people don’t think about, I think.
EC: That’s awesome.
SS: You know, you come here [0:55:00], you’re a Houstonian now. That’s it. We got you now. We got you.
EC: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
SS: We’re going to get him though. He’s going to — we’re going to bring his son. His son’s going to come and visit.
EC: There you go.
SS: I’m telling you. He’s going to end up — he’s going to end up joining.
EC: That’s awesome.
SS: I’m telling you. He’s going to be your — a frequent visitor.
EC: You going to end up joining. We need somebody like you here.
TR: I have a nine-year-old that wants to find a church.
EC: Oh. He would literally love children’s church. I’m telling you.
TR: You and Ms. Rose are on the same page.
EC: I’m telling you, man. He would literally love —
SS: AWANA, because it’s going to be like —
SS: – I want to come back.
EC: I’m telling you, man.
SS: I want to come back.
EC: They would — they would — these kids at our church, man, are busy. [0:55:38]