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Houston entrepreneur turns his furniture stores into shelters

SAN ANTONIO — One Houston furniture store owner who said his community has supported him through tough times is paying it forward by turning his two stores into shelters to help evacuees.

After the remnants of Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale of Gallery Furniture gathered volunteers and his delivery trucks starting Sunday to rescue people.

“We had several Penske rental trucks, 24-foot trucks that you can get in any flooded street,” he said Monday. “We sent volunteers out in Houston picking up people.”

In Houston, McIngvale, 66, is a household name known for his commercials with the slogan, “Gallery Furniture will save you money!”

In 2009, someone lit his warehouse on fire, which resulted in millions of dollars’ worth of damage. Houston customers kept him in business, so McIngvale said supporting residents during this tragic time is one way to give back.

Now 400 children and adults are living at his two stores, and he has allowed the families to bring their pets.

“Last night, about 1:30 in the morning, this little girl came in. She’s 7 years old, had her parents with her and I think probably her uncle. She was the only one in the group that spoke English. And she was crying, McIngvale told National Public Radio on Monday. “And she said, will you allow us to stay here? And it just broke my heart because it was so personal to them. And unlike an adult, she couldn’t hide her feelings.”

McIngvale and his army of volunteers also are providing free breakfast, lunch and dinner for the evacuees.

Some of the volunteers, like Jasmine Broussard, are customers. And Broussard knows the anguish the evacuees are going through; her family lost its home in Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.

“I know what I went through, and I couldn’t allow other people to go through that,” she told NPR. “And now, if I could be a help to somebody, that’s what I’m going to do.”

During Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, McIngvale helped 200 evacuees who fled New Orleans, providing shelter in his store.

McIngvale, who has been in business for more than 35 years, also is known for his philanthropy. He’s given to numerous charities and for more than 20 years, he’s donated rooms full of furniture to families in need at Christmas.

“I was raised as a Catholic. I continued my Catholic faith throughout my life, trying to do the right thing,” he said. “And hopefully, you do the right thing and help people along the way.

“Sitting in a perfectly normal house one day and then, 10 minutes later you’ve got 3 feet of water in it,” McIngvale said. “So it’s very stressful, and we’re trying to help them out because they’ve done so much for us over the years.”

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