WATCH: How Hurricane Harvey Brought Two Heroic Strangers Together in Texas
Sometimes superheroes don't wear capes.
A natural disaster, despite the damage and loss it causes, can bring out the best in people and communities. It can also bring unlikely people together. A few weeks ago, that innate tendency to band together through tragedy was exhibited by Jason Parker and Bobby White—two ordinary men from opposite ends of the country, who united to do something extraordinary for the people and animals affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Parker is from Osseo, Wisconsin, and White lives in Gainesville, Florida. Prior to the devastation that occurred in southeast Texas, the two had never met each other, until they found out they shared a common honor and a common goal of giving back. And it all started with GoFundMe.
Earlier this year, police officer Bobby White aka "Basketball Cop" and Jason Parker were named back-to-back GoFundMe Heroes in March and April, respectively. The title is bestowed upon everyday people paying it forward in their communities, as well as those who have successfully raised money on the crowdfunding platform.
White's nonprofit organization, Basketball Cop Foundation, was established to support and build a positive relationship between police officers and the youth through the sport—an effort he believes is vital for restoring trust in the community. Parker began his nonprofit Gunnar's Wheels Foundation after his dog, Gunnar, was hit by a truck in 2014 and needed a wheelchair. Gunnar's Wheels is a lifetime loaner program that provides free carts and wheelchairs around the world to help disabled pets become mobile again.
"We connected back when we were selected as Heroes to share our experiences and have since followed each other on social media," White told Southern Living.
They didn't know it at the time while trading stories and discussing their initiatives over the phone, but White and Parker would soon see their GoFundMe hero status imagined in real life months later in Texas. Upon realizing the after-effects of flooded homes, displaced residents, and endangered animals, neither White nor Parker wasted any time making the long trip to the Lone Star State.
For Parker, it was the heartbreaking pictures of defenseless animals that prompted him to travel all the way from Wisconsin to help them.
While there in Houston, the two were finally able to connect in person. White assisted Houston-area police officers flooded out of their homes, and Parker aided in rescuing pets and delivering supplies to storm-ravaged areas.
"We sent teams of cops from around the country to begin gutting the homes of officers before the mold and mildew set in and caused more issues in the home," said White. "The first home we worked on [pictured below] was of a Houston PD officer who had five feet of water in his home."
White was also able to purchase new school uniforms and essential items, totaling $600, for that same officer's family. He, along with Relentless Defender Apparel in Richmond, Texas, organized a community event for approximately 40 kids and Houston police officers. The event was created to allow the children an opportunity to engage in something positive to take their minds off of losing their homes, rather than being restricted to shelters all day and night.
Parker, on the other hand, used the power of social media to ask for donations for animal supplies, such as food, collars, medicine, gauze, kennels, etc. He was gifted with 10,000 pounds of dog food by manufacturer Texas Mills, and Fastenal of Texas helped to store the food until Parker arrived. For the entire week he was in Houston, Parker was transported to affected areas to deliver those supplies and save animals.
"We focused on catching dogs that were hiding under their former homes." Parker said. "We provided food and water for the animals while I was down there and rescued quite a few. I think we made a huge difference for the animals that we saved, including eight small puppies and multiple full-grown dogs."
Parker also added that although he was proud of what he was able to accomplish in Texas, he's also pleased by what White was able to do there as well.
"I can't help but to be proud of Bobby for sacrificing his time to go there," said Parker. "To help these officers that were working 12-hour shifts clean up their homes and get ready for the rebuilding process—my hat is off to him."
Despite witnessing the devastation first-hand, like furniture strewn across the landscape and dead livestock scattered across the terrain, Parker still believes in the resiliency of Texas and the people working to put their lives back together in the aftermath of Harvey.