Texas workers travel to Uvalde to help after school shooting

Workers at chain restaurants, retail stores from across Texas provide respite for residents after deadly mass shooting.

Sign reading Uvalde with a love heart
Residents of Uvalde, Texas are grappling with loss and grief in the aftermath of the deadliest school shooting in a decade in the United States [File: Daniel Kramer/Reuters]

Uvalde, Texas, US – Tracy Colton doesn’t know what to say.

“We have family members come in to pick up photos of their children who died,” said the 47-year-old manager of the Walgreens pharmacy in downtown Uvalde. “What do you say to them? There’s nothing you can.”

Colton usually greets store patrons with, “Good morning, welcome to Walgreens. How are you today?”

But those just aren’t the phrases you can say any more, Colton told Al Jazeera, just days after 19 fourth-graders and two teachers were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in this close-knit Texas town in the deadliest school shooting in a decade in the United States.

“I’ve hugged parents when they’ve come in,” Colton said. “I’ve just cried with them”

The store is as busy as usual, she added, but almost silent. “It’s so quiet. It’s just so quiet.”

Memorial for victims
A memorial with crosses for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School has been erected outside of the school [Veronica G Cardenas/Reuters]

Colton’s situation is one small example of how the tragedy has left residents’ lives changed in this small, predominately Latino town where everyone seems to know someone personally affected by the tragedy.

The heartbreak is palpable everywhere.

On Thursday, in what residents say is another heartbreaking example of the shooting’s effect on residents, Joe Garcia died of a heart attack. His wife of 24 years, Irma Garcia, was one of the two teachers killed at Robb Elementary two days before.

The aftershocks of the shooting are taking an emotional toll on everyone in Uvalde, Colton said. “This is an emotional toll on all of our employees.”

The company’s thoughts are with everyone affected, Fraser Engerman, Walgreens’ senior director of external relations, told Al Jazeera in an email.

“We are offering counseling services and other care to our team members in Uvalde where we have a store very close to the school. We are also working closely with the local community donating supplies and offering assistance to the families [affected],” Engerman wrote.

This is such a small community, everyone grew up with somebody involved in the tragedy, Colton said. “That’s why I’m so glad Walgreens employees from other stores … are coming to help out,” she said.

Dozens of Walgreens employees from stores in other Texas communities have travelled to the city to help out, Colton said, and employees of the Uvalde Walgreens have been able to take time off from work to be with loved ones and grieve.

Workers have come from San Antonio, New Braunfels, Laredo and Eagle Pass, said Aimee Lusson, director of pharmacy and retail for South Texas Walgreens stores.

“We’ve just had an outpouring of support — people from as far away as Dallas-Fort Worth. We’ve had a lot of people say I can come right away,” said Lusson, who travelled from San Antonio to be in Uvalde.

The situation is similar for the other chain restaurants and stores that line Main Street — the central business hub that bisects the town of 16,000 residents.

On Thursday, 18 of the 30 employees who were working at the Uvalde Whataburger, a Texas-based fast food restaurant chain, were from other South Texas towns — mostly from Eagle Pass, Del Rio and San Antonio.

Interior of store
Chain-store employees from across Texas have travelled to Uvalde to give local staff a break, including one Starbucks worker who came from almost 332km away [John Savage/Al Jazeera]

“Man, it’s been so helpful. We’ve been busy and we’re telling employees if they need to go home, to go home, no matter what,” said a Whataburger employee who asked to remain anonymous, citing company policy.

“We’ve got a lot of high school kids who work here, and they need time to process this,” he added.

On Friday, Ivan Montalvo, the 27-year-old manager of a Starbucks store in Eagle Pass, a town on the US-Mexico border about 96km (60 miles) south of Uvalde, brought a team of 10 employee volunteers to the Uvalde Starbucks to help.

One worker came from the Texas town of Victoria, almost 332km (200 miles) away.

“We’re all here to help in any way we can,” Montalvo said.

Colton said that the support is making a horrific situation a little bit better. “It shows how much people care.”

Source: Al Jazeera