Glenn E. Smith Jr. and his pilot friends don’t own trucks and they don’t own boats, but what they do have are planes and a desire to help.
“We follow that old saying, ‘Do what you can with what you’ve got where you are,” Smith, an attorney for Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, said Friday after flying into the Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport from the Dallas area.
General aviation pilots from Iowa, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, Austin, Louisiana and the Dallas/Fort Worth area flew in diapers, baby formula, sleeping bags and toiletries for the Salvation Army to distribute in Harris, Liberty and Montgomery counties for those in need following Hurricane Harvey. Smith expected 60-80 pilots to land in Conroe Friday.
“I thought maybe we’d have 20 airplanes. I’m definitely surprised for something that is two days old,” Smith said.
The project was an effort that started Tuesday morning among Fort Worth-based pilots Smith, radio host John Clay Wolfe and Doug Jackson.
“You’ve got people who aren’t in the Gulf Coast area who want to help,” Smith said. “We’ve been sitting there watching TV for days and you want to do something.”
They put together the Operation Airdrop group on Tuesday.
Smith reached out to the Salvation Army and they requested the four specific things they delivered.
On Wednesday morning, Aug. 30, the pilots put the word out via Facebook.
Through various airplane owner groups, donations were collected and the effort spread as more pilots learned of the need.
Also on Wednesday, some of the general aviation pilots were able to transport a Salvation Army employee to San Antonio so he could fly to Florida and bring back cots. A group of pilots also brought office supplies from Dallas that were needed by the Salvation Army.
Harper Goodwin, who flew from Arkansas, unloads donations from his Cessna 210 Turbo aircraft during Operation Air Drop on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport.
This was before any of the airports were open and the planes could quickly get where trucks could not.
One pilot from the East Coast even brought down tire sealant needed in the Rockport area.
Wolfe, one of the pilots who flew in Wednesday, has a four-hour radio talk show that is broadcast on Saturday mornings on ESPN 97.5 and THE BUZZ 94.5. The show is broadcast in five states and 17 cities, including Conroe.
The group was hoping to use Wolfe’s fan base to spread the word.
“I’ve got this big radio network and fan base, why don’t we do something with it,” Wolfe said.
And Friday’s fly-in effort was put together even before the group could be advertised on his Saturday morning show.
Commercials will begin airing soon and a website has been set up, operation-airdrop.com.
Wolfe explained the thought was to list FBOs (Fixed Base Operators) where people can drop off donations and then the pilots will fly them where needed. Wolfe saw Friday’s drop-off as just the beginning for Operation Airdrop and at some point felt like the operation could be set up to respond to any catastrophe in the country.
“Pilots are always looking for an excuse to fly and they all want to do something good,” Wolfe said. “If you can buy their fuel (the pilots were given tax vouchers for their fuel), and give them an excuse to do something good, you’re going to see a lot of people show up.”
As the donations stacked up in the plane hangar, Salvation Army Lt. Jeffrey Marquis, who was deployed from Florida, called the effort amazing.
“When these type of massive events happen, you see the goodness of the American spirit come out,” Marquis said. “It really is amazing. At a time when you’re driving around and seeing this catastrophic situation for people, it would be so easy to get down and bombarded and wonder how on earth are we going to overcome this? When groups like these do these types of things, it lets you know that it’s possible.”
Marquis said the supplies flown in Friday will be distributed in the local Salvation Army coverage area of Harris, Liberty and Montgomery counties. However he noted that the items are most needed in Harris County right now.
For more information about Operation Airdrop, visit the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/114148269271076 or visit the website operation-airdrop.com.
For more about the Salvation Army, visit salvationarmyhouston.org.