Texans Helping Texans: Independent MGAs Join Forces for Targeted Harvey Relief

By | September 21, 2017

A group of independently owned Texas managing general agents (MGAs) have come together to provide targeted, direct, local relief to communities affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Texas MGAs for Disaster Relief is working with local officials and emergency coordinators to identify and provide items of immediate need to hurricane victims and their families. Individual participating MGAs are providing seed funding for the project, as well as establishing their own plans for providing local relief.

The MGA Harvey relief project is a “grassroots effort” initiated and coordinated by David Day, senior vice president of Texas All Risk General Agency, according to Mike Berry, CEO of Austin-based Specialty Insurance Managers. “It came about in a phone call and then a letter and then has grown to what it is. Really, it’s just a bunch of Texas agents helping Texas agents,” Berry said.

The MGAs involved are all active in professional organizations such as the Texas Surplus Lines Association (TSLA), Surplus Lines Stamping Office of Texas (SLTX), Wholesale and Specialty Insurance Association (WSIA) and more, Day said. “Everybody’s willing to help and willing to pitch in,” he said.

Some MGAs prefer to keep their participation anonymous but Day identified seven MGA members of the group: AUI Inc.; Craig & Leich (ISU); Myron Steves; RSI Inc.; Specialty Insurance Managers; and Texas All Risk General Agency.

In addition to contributions from individual MGAs, donations from outside sources are being accepted. The group says 100 percent of donations will be used to purchase requested items, which will be taken directly to where they are needed the most.

State Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, an insurance agent whose district was heavily impacted by the storm, is helping with the effort to identify needs and organize delivery of aid.

“When you talk to emergency officials they’ll tell you that their needs are fluid,” Day said. So, on any given week the group is relying on local officials to let them know what is needed. For instance, one impacted community asked for humidifiers to help dry out homes, he said. Another town in the Houston area said it is imperative for them to help people without flood insurance to return their homes as soon as possible once their houses are clean and dry.

“They’re displaced, they’re staying with friends,” Day said. And unlike those with flood insurance, “they don’t have any money that’s coming to rebuild their homes. … So those people will need dining room tables, beds, mattress frames. Storage boxes to put their clothes in.”

Sept. 4, 2017. Debris on the side of the road in a Houston area neighborhood affected by Hurricane Harvey. Photo by FEMA News Photo.

Simply keeping residents and volunteers in hard hit neighborhoods fed while they are emptying out their houses and preparing to rebuild, is another need that has been identified in various communities, Day said.

To that end, the MGA relief fund is sponsoring local food trucks that will go into those neighborhoods to provide lunches for as many people that they can. For instance, on one recent Saturday in the Houston-area community of Brookside Village, more than 200 people were fed from Pounder’s Food Truck in an event arranged and paid for by the Texas MGAs for Disaster Relief fund.

In addition, three food trucks that are members of the non-profit WFTO (Women’s Food Truck Organization) and sponsored by the MGA relief fund are scheduled to provide food at the Festival of Hope in Katy, Texas, on Sept. 24.

Similar efforts will be ongoing as the recovery process continues, the group says.

School Supplies, Socks

Specialty Insurance Managers’ Berry said in addition to contributing to the general MGA relief fund, Specialty has reached out to customers in La Grange, Texas, to find out what the immediate needs in that community are. The La Grange area, which is about halfway between Austin and Houston, suffered massive flood damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

“I’ve got a customer down there who’s OK personally and his office is OK, but he has some staff that lost everything,” Berry said. Detergent was the on top of the list of immediate needs identified, “but next 10, 12, 15 items were school supplies. The rest of the items on the list were what you might expect … cleaning items, socks, personal effects.”

Budgeting for around 150 students, Speciality secured all the school supplies listed, along with the other requested items, housed them in Specialty’s offices and arranged for their delivery.

“We’re just trying to work with those who are on the front line and dealing with it,” Berry said.

Along with supporting the MGA relief fund, the other MGAs in the group are also working on their own focused projects, as well, he said.

Employees Helping Employees

In addition to participating in the Texas MGAs for Disaster Relief effort, employees at Houston-based Myron Steves have also been helping their co-workers who were impacted by the hurricane.

“Our Myron Steves employees have held fund raisers … to raise money for our fellow employees that were affected, and we have just been really successful. Our employees have been so generous,” said Deborah Scott, executive assistant – healthcare, who’s heading up the relief efforts at Myron Steves. The firm’s managing partners, in turn, are matching the employee donations.

“There’s a lot of damage, there’s a lot of clean up to do. There are folks in really uncomfortable, really horrid situations. But through the darkness there is light,” she said.

Like the other participating Texas MGAs, Myron Steves, is focusing on “providing food and immediate disaster clean up supply items to folks that need them,” Scott said.

“What we have been doing to this point is working with different food truck vendors and providing meals to individuals who have been displaced and … the volunteers helping to clean up. We’re also providing cleaning supplies and funds for those supplies,” she said.

Another priority has been to communicate with employees and agents to let them know when volunteer opportunities are available and about other ways in which they can help.

“This is a fairly small, targeted effort,” Scott said. “We’re competitors but it’s one big family. The insurance industry in Texas is a small world.”

Ready to Help

Paul Rainey, president of RSI International in Arlington, Texas, said his firm, like many others was ready and eager to help those who “suffered terrible losses as a result of the Harvey floods. Knowing so many Texans were affected we wanted to do anything we could to help them try to get back to some sense of normal life.

“We really liked the idea of getting the items they truly needed in their hands as quickly and as directly as possible, and so that was why when asked we offered to help immediately. Also, having such great relationships with some of the other independent wholesale operations in Texas allowed us the ability to move quickly in our response which I think is important. I couldn’t be prouder of our entire industry and their desire to help across the board in this time of need.”

RSI as a company is donating to the relief fund. On top of that, the firm will match any donation made by a staff member. As an additional incentive, any staff member who donates to the will be allowed to wear jeans to work for the month of September, Rainey said.

“We also continue to work with the other independent wholesale members to see what else is needed from our team, and plan to donate our time when needed to continue to help with this cause. I think we realize that this is going to be a long-term project and is something we are committed to fully,” Rainey added.

“We simply want to help out our fellow Texans in this desperate time of need,” he said.

Donations to the Texas MGAs for Disaster Relief fund may be made online at: https://www.youcaring.com/hurricaneharveyvictims-942870.

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