This hometown Houston hero provided food and emergency shelter for 800 weary souls, including some Texas National Guardsmen.

By Jennifer Chappell Smith
August 29, 2017
This hometown hero invited weary Houstonians into his furniture gallery, where he provided food and shelter to 800.

Watching coverage of Hurricane Harvey on TV, Jim McIngvale, known around H-Town as "Mattress Mack," knew he could offer victims an extra bed—or two.

Owner of Gallery Furniture for the past 36 years, McIngvale took to social media to announce that he would open two of his store locations as emergency shelters. They were full of recliners, plastic-covered mattresses, sectional sofas, and more, where victims of Hurricane Harvey could rest. What's more, these stores have restaurants on-site, open to employees and customers on a typical work day. (As McIngvale points out, the restaurant is a practical feature of his business: "If [a customer's] stomach is hungry, they're not going to buy some furniture!" he says, laughing.)

But as the tragedy unfolded, this local businessman realized he had the food and shelter his fellow Houstonians needed. Having opened his stores to refugees in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago, McIngvale was happy to help his fellow Texans weather this storm. In his Facebook video announcing his plan, he called on Texans to band together and look to the future, quoting his daughter's favorite saying: "If not for my struggles, I wouldn't have known my strengths." And he offered reassurance and resolve: "With God's grace, we'll all get through this better and be stronger than ever because that's who we are. We are Texans . . . We will help each other as we have done for two hundred years."

The Gallery Furniture North Freeway location and the Gallery Furniture Grand Parkway store soon filled to capacity—400 people at each. "They came in a hurry, and we went and got some of them," McIngvale says, explaining he dispatched willing volunteers to drive the store's 24-foot box trucks to pluck victims from water-logged neighborhoods, the same areas where those trucks might deliver mattresses on any other day. One vehicle did stall out and became a total loss in the floodwaters. But McIngvale isn't concerned: "I was happy to lose the truck versus losing some human beings."

Now the two store locations are housing and feeding a total of 800 men, women, and children breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In between meals, they lounge on furniture and enjoy a dry, safe refuge. On Monday night, McIngvale strolled through one of the warehouses and surveyed those sleeping on his inventory. "People ranged from 85-year-olds to 25-year-old mothers with their children," he says.

The self-proclaimed "capitalist with a minor in social work" has an eye on the Labor Day weekend, which is traditionally a big weekend for furniture sales. He knows that not too many locals will be in the market for a new bedroom suite or leather recliner, given the dire situation the city faces. He'll feed and care for these flood victims for several days and then help arrange for them to get transported to even better equipped shelters. "We'll do what's right by these people," he says.

For those who found shelter when they needed it most, McIngvale already has "done right" by them. "They've taken a really big hit," McIngvale says. "It's time they have some TLC, and that's what we're trying to provide."

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