As Hurricane Harvey drenched Houston before heading toward Louisiana in the final days of August, Rusty Munster at Toyota of Slidell knew he had to act, even though the storm was hundreds of miles away.
Munster, general manager of the dealership northeast of New Orleans, wasn't worried about the fate of his own store, but rather fellow Gulf Coast auto dealers and their communities.
He'd been through Hurricane Katrina 12 years earlier and knew what to expect.
"As we started seeing the flooding happening, and it kept progressing, we were trying to figure out what we could do to help," Munster told Automotive News. "We lost everything in Katrina, and so we understood exactly what was happening over there."
Sales Manager Ryan Denmark suggested the dealership serve as a drop-off point to stock supplies, Munster said, "to send somewhere, not knowing exactly where they would go."
Munster posted a video on the dealership's Facebook page appealing to the community to help their Texas neighbors.
"Our area is no stranger to hurricanes and everything that comes with them," he said in the video. "We've been where our friends are in Texas. We know how hard supplies can be to find in the aftermath of a storm."
A local TV station picked up on the plea and broadcast live news stories from the dealership the next day, fueling nearly 25,000 views of the Facebook video. That was followed by an outpouring of donated goods.
"We literally filled the showroom in less than a week; it was incredible," Munster said.
But the organizers had yet to figure out where they were going to send the huge haul of cleaning products, toiletries, clothes, sheets and other items that were chosen to help victims clean up and rebuild.
Munster reached out to Toyota's regional automobile distributor, Gulf States Toyota, who found a Texas dealership willing to help on the other end.
Jay Richards III, general manager of Kinsel Toyota in Beaumont, sent a huge trailer to pick up the donations from Slidell and kept his own community up to date on its progress via the dealership's Facebook page.
Beaumont, near the Texas-Louisiana border, had been hard hit by Harvey and had gone days without running water.
"I had maybe 30 team members on my end gather, box, pallet everything, load everything," Munster said. Then, the Kinsel Toyota folks took over with distribution.
The operation was not without its complications. The supplies weighed heavily on the trailer, and the 275-mile journey from Slidell to Beaumont took better than a day, Munster said.
In mid-September, Kinsel Toyota announced on Facebook that the trailer had arrived "after a very exciting round trip" and later posted pictures showing the products unloaded at a local civic center, which garnered 800 likes.
A pleasant surprise, Munster said, was that the donations were channeled to the 240 police officers and first responders whose homes were heavily hit by the storm. About 90 first-responder families lost all their belongings, he said. "Ultimately, it ended up in a wonderful place."
Toyota of Slidell also helped affected dealerships with new-vehicle inventory, as did others in the Gulf States Toyota network.
"I think it's a true family effort," Munster said. "The relationships that I've made through storms or through natural disasters are great, lifelong relationships. I'll never forget the people who helped us."