Koehns an answer to prayers for storm-struck San Antonio

The Koehns taped “Texas Strong” signs on their grocery carts when shopping for supplies. They filled 10 carts over the course of three shopping trips.

By Jared Janzen

HALSTEAD—Last Sunday morning, a church in San Antonio prayed that it would be able to continue distributing food and water to people hurt by the cold snap and power outages that had hit Texas especially hard, last week.

Hours later, that prayer was answered as Den and Whitney Koehn rolled up unannounced with a trailer full of supplies, all the way from Halstead, a 10-hour drive away.

Several days before, as Whitney had been following the news of what people in Texas were experiencing, her heart resonated with them and pushed her into action.

“I just got tired of crying about it and decided to get up and do something,” she said. “Maybe that is somewhat out of character for me, I don’t know. I do know that it was worth every bit of the stress of organizing the thing. It was worth every bit of travel. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Den Koehn, second from left, begins unloading some of the food and water he and his family delivered to a church in San Antonio, Texas, over the weekend, to aide people affected by power outages. Dozens of people from Harvey County and surrounding areas donated money, food or water to help out.

Whitney said she and Den had given to various fundraisers in the past, but this was the first time they’d been involved on such a hands-on level of asking people for donations and personally delivering them.

“I really can’t explain why it hit me so hard,” she said. “I guess because I was cold. I’m from the south and I’m not used to this, but at least my ceiling wasn’t falling down on my head, like these other people. I don’t know. I just all of a sudden got the thought of what if I could actually do something?”

After she got the idea last Thursday, she texted her husband about it and his response was simply, “If you can make it happen, I’m going with you.” It turns out the same thought had already occurred to him.

“We talked about it later and he said just before I texted him, he had had that thought of what if we just went?” Whitney said. “What if there was something we could actually do, rather than just sit here and feel bad for them and pray for them?”

Koehn is owner of two Halstead businesses, Henry’s Chase and Main Street Interiors. This meant she had access to a trailer that she uses to haul furniture. With business slow due to the extra cold weather, she decided to pursue the idea. She also had access to about 2,000 followers on her business’s Facebook page, who were willing to spread the word and pitch in.

Someone sent Whitney $200 within 10 minutes of her original Facebook post on Thursday afternoon. That was the first of a steady stream of messages from 4:30 up until 11 p.m., when she decided it was time for bed.

Whitney said she had lost count of how many people had contributed to the fundraiser, but she estimated it was in the 75-100 range.

“It was kind of from all over, but yeah, Halstead showed up,” she said. “Halstead always does. There were quite a few from Newton, too.”

She also had donations come from Wichita. The family made three shopping trips to Sam’s Club and Walmart on Friday and Saturday, totaling 10 grocery carts full.

Even when the Koehns were buying the food and water, they had several people in the store notice the “Texas Strong” signs taped to their shopping carts and either offered to contribute or just expressed their appreciation.

The family ended up with pretty impressive load, including food, blankets, toilet paper and lots of water. Whitney said one of her kids had counted 32 cases of water bottles.

“We had one guy show up whose whole pickup bed was full of water, right before we started loading the other night, so that was incredible,” she said.

The Koehns raised $3,000 in two days for the relief project, which she felt was pretty substantial given their 36-hour time frame. Some people also chose to purchase the food or water themselves and give it to the Koehns to deliver.

“I did not expect that type of response,” she said. “I mean, I knew there would be people that would want to be involved, so that’s why I posted it on Facebook, but I did not expect that many.”

Whitney said she hadn’t known anyone in Texas, but one of her original posts was seen by someone in San Antonio, who recommended a number of places she and Den could deliver the goods, including Calvary Hills Baptist Church.

“We had no idea where to go, so we just picked one,” she said.

She had been unable to reach the church on the phone beforehand, so they simply showed up unannounced Sunday afternoon with a trailer full of food and water. Koehn said the church had nearly given away all its supplies when they arrived.

“They really, really needed food,” she said. “She showed me their little food pantry area and it was very tiny. They had a few bags made up on the shelf and then they were done for the day.”

Whitney said when they arrived at the church, the volunteers initially assumed the Koehn family was there to pick up supplies until Den said they actually were making a delivery.

“They started looking at each other and were like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, we’ll help you get it out,’ Whitney said. “[…] He messes around there and opens that door and they just flipped out.”

As the word got out about what she was doing, Whitney started receiving lots of messages and comments in the past week about some of the hardships people in Texas have been facing.

“Grocery stores were just empty. There was no food in the stores,” she said. “They were really cold, trying to cook over fires. Their pipes busted, flooding out their houses. Just crazy stuff. They simply don’t have weather like that. No one was expecting it and then they don’t know what to do, either.”

She heard from one man who was without power for four days, last week.

By the time the Koehns made their delivery Sunday afternoon, temperatures in San Antonio had warmed back up to 75 degrees.

Two of their kids also went along on the trip. The family left about 9 p.m., Saturday and returned at 4 a.m., Monday.

“We drove through the night, were there at the church for maybe 30 or 45 minutes and then headed on home,” she said. “It was crazy, but there were a lot of people praying for our protection.”

Whitney said their goal had been to provide help to Texas quickly and kind of fly under the radar.

“I don’t need any credit for what I did,” she said. “We just wanted to help in some small way. OK, so we drove 20 hours to do this. That seems like a big deal and it is, kind of, but when you look at what they’re actually needing down there, they need another 10 loads.”

She acknowledged that times are tough for many people right now, including locally, but future worries shouldn’t keep us from helping others now.

“We’re all kind of worried right now,” she noted. “For sure, small businesses are worried about the economy and now our gas bills are going out the wazoo. What does the future really look like here in the next little while? But, this was something that we could do right now to help someone.”

Whitney added she hopes to inspire people to look around and notice those in need.

“There are needs right here. I know that,” she said. “This was just a big one, so we tried to help where we could, but if all of us, myself included, just look around, that’s the only way we’re going to make the world better.”

Whitney said if anyone still wants to donate to Texans, she would prefer that they would give money directly to Calvary Hills Baptist Church, instead of giving the money to her to pass along. She said she planned to post the church’s contact information on her Facebook page.

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