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Heroes of Harvey Been there

August 2, 2018

Nancy McCutcheon could not sit idle during that surreal time a few days after Hurricane Harvey hit, when people in Dickinson who had been evacuated by boat were returning to their destroyed homes and facing the shock and the sweaty slog of recovery. She knew from experience what they were going through.

Her Seabrook home was hit by the tidal surge of Hurricane Ike in 2008. Returning to it a week later, when there were still fish and jellyfish in the pool, had been as physically demanding as it was depressing. With stores and restaurants still closed, the McCutcheons ate a lot of military meal replacements handed out by relief agencies. But there had also been one meal that meant the world to them: a homemade spaghetti dinner the Rotary Club served at a park.

McCutcheon, who owns a cleaning business, has always cooked for love. With a large family, she also knows how to prepare for a crowd. So she got to it in the kitchen, tripling and quadrupling her recipes, while her husband, Steve, fired up the grill. They loaded up their truck (and the truck of friends Martha and Sean Ingram) with barbecue brisket and tortillas and headed to neighborhoods along Dickinson Bayou. They drove slowly, calling out to anyone who might hear them, offering food. They served about 150 people that weekend.

Back home, they felt “blessed and accomplished,” McCutcheon said. But she was haunted by Harvey’s mind-boggling damage. She posted pictures on Facebook. Soon, donations and more food were pouring in even from people she didn’t know — spaghetti sauce and noodles, grapes, bananas, homemade peanut butter cookies, brownies.

McCutcheon also continued to cook, turning out huge batches of comfort food such as gumbo and chicken ranch casserole. Melissa de Flora and Melissa Kyle Dickson, who knew flood victims, joined the effort and helped expand what they were offering — hand sanitizer, for example. “That was some yucky stuff from bayous,” McCutcheon said.

By week three, some of the storm victims were housed at the Quality Inn in Seabrook, so their team focused on that group. People needed clothing as well as food, so McCutcheon took a list of sizes and what they wanted, and the team fulfilled it. At the very least, everyone staying at the hotel got new underwear and socks.

McCutcheon kept the efforts going for about six weeks, working mostly on weekends. De Flora was a godsend who kept the effort going for months, she said. De Flora even bought Christmas presents for all the kids.

Because of that, McCutcheon downplays her own heroics. “I feel like I was a minor player in a major league game,” she said.

molly.glentzer@chron.com