As Hurricane Harvey, officially graded a Category Four super storm when it made landfall on Friday, strengthened its stranglehold on the Houston area over the weekend and produced flooding of biblical proportions, longtime resident and well-known thoroughbred owner James McInvgale jumped into action, opening two of his largest Gallery Furniture store locations to provide sanctuary for any and all locals seeking relief from the storm.
McIngvale is probably best known in thoroughbred racing as the owner of the recently retired champion Runhappy, who just completed his first year at stud at Claiborne Farm near Paris, Kentucky.
As of early Monday, approximately 600 displaced Houstonians are safe in one of two Gallery stores open to aid the victims of the storm, about 400 in their flagship location off of interstate 45 and another 200 or so in the Richmond location. Both are located on main roadways and many more people are expected to find sanctuary in the stores in the coming days.
So far as much as 30 inches of rain had fallen in the Houston area leaving as many as 90,000 people displaced from their flooded homes and 5,500 people in local shelters and relief centers scattered throughout the city with more expected as the storm headed back out into the Gulf of Mexico. Harvey is forecasted to launch another assault on the Texas and Louisiana gulf coast sometime mid-week and leave behind an additional 20 to 30 inches of rain in the area.
Houston is home to more than 6 ½ million people with several hundred thousand more residing in the smaller surrounding towns and cities. Nearly every community has been affected by the hurricane winds and/or water.
“My father has been in Houston for more than 35 years and he’s a Texan through and through,” McIngvale’s daughter, Laura McIngvale-Brown said. “We opened our doors for Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Katrina and we’ll be open as long as we need to be through Harvey.
“Look, Houston floods and it always has. But this is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Areas not close to flood-prone spots are flooding and it’s truly overwhelming the scope of the disaster that’s happening.”
McIngvale-Brown said that her father also dispatched many of his delivery trucks, which are high up off the ground, to rescue stranded residents and that anyone with a commercial license to drive one could come to the store and help.
“We’ve had trucks out overnight picking people up,” McIngvale-Brown said. “My father said that anyone with a license to drive this kind of truck could come down and help and he’d pay their cell phone bill for the month because of all the minutes and data they’d use finding people. And we’ll continue doing this, too, as long as we have to.”
Additionally, McIngvale-Brown said that Gallery is open to displaced peoples’ pets.
“I know most shelters don’t allow pets,” McIngvale-Brown said. “But we are. We are animal people; we all have dogs and are dog lovers. There’s an area attached to the main store we’ve turned into a makeshift dog park. Most people have cages and crates and those kinds of things, but we absolutely are allowing pets. So far it’s working out well.”
Currently, the temporary residents of the Gallery Furniture stores have access to bathrooms as well as food as the stores both have on-site restaurants. And any and all first responders are encouraged to stop by for a nap and a meal.
“We have restaurants at both stores,” McIngvale-Brown said. “We’ve had first responders in for a nap and for a quick bite to eat and we hope more will come in if they need to. We do have a surplus of mattresses after all. And we have food until we run out and hopefully if there’s a break in the weather we can re-stock and continue to provide meals.”
While McIngvale-Brown’s father mans the relief efforts at the Gallery Furniture flagship store, her mother Linda is accepting those in need at the family’s Westside Tennis and Fitness Club, also located in Houston.
“Dad has been at the store taking care of everything there, overseeing that,” McIngvale-Brown said. “Nobody in the family is sitting at home. My mother is at the tennis club and helping there and it’s open for whatever people need. There are showers and washers and dryers and things like that.”
Additonally, McIngvale-Brown said, many of the Gallery Furniture employees have remained on site to help any way the can, despite the fact that several have themselves or their family members experienced their own flooding and loss.
“Of course they are not required to come to work,” McIngvale-Brown said. “But many have shown up. Of course they will be paid, but they come because they want to help. They are way more than employees, they are team members and, in many ways, family. We are lucky to have the people we have working with us.”
McInvale-Brown said the most important thing people who want to help can do is donate clothing items, more so than money.
“Clothes, towels, things like that,” McIngvale-Brown said. “Donation centers are always needing things like this. I know the Red Cross only accepts new items, but the reality is that one person’s previously used item can be helpful to another person. And baby care needs, those are always in exceptionally high need.”
McIngvale-Brown, a native Houstonian herself, is sad for her city, but knows that the people of Houston — and the state of Texas itself — will band together to rebuild, bigger and stronger than ever.
“It’s going to take months and months to rebuild and that won’t even start until this is all over and we’re still expecting so much more rain,” McIngvale-Brown said. “It’s terrible; some people will return to their homes and find them flooded and the realization that they will stay flooded for up to two months. It’s unbelievable.
“We’ve seen people who’ve lost everything out there the next day helping and rescuing their neighbors. People are out in boats pulling people out of the water, doctors are donating their time and anything they can. As bad as this has been it’s given us all a tremendous sense of pride. I said I’d move to Kentucky in a heartbeat because of the horses, of course, but I can’t lie, I’m so proud to be a Texan.”
The two Gallery Furniture stores open for those displaced are located at:
6006 North Freeway, just off I-45
7227 West Grand Parkway South
Located just off the Texas State Highway 99, also known as the Grand Parkway
If you or anyone you know is in need of a safe place, or to donate and help out, contact the Gallery Furniture team members at those locations.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.