Marcus Forson woke up extra early Thursday, got in his Jeep with 42-inch wheels and took to East Texas roads to help nurses, doctors and hospital staff members get to work at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview.
“It makes me feel good just to see their smiles,” Forson said. “Everyone is just so grateful. I picked up a lady who works as an operator here, and she was super grateful. She was taking pictures with my Jeep. Just to see their smiles and to see they’re happy that we’re doing this. It makes me feel good. We enjoy what we do. We’re one big Jeep family.”
Forson, of Longview, is among dozens of Jeep owners who have participated in a large-scale effort coordinated by the nonprofit organization E.T. Jeep Outlaws to transport hospital staff members to and from work each day so they can continue providing medical care to the community.
“Every single one of the individuals here, I can’t put a value on what they mean to us,” said Christus Good Shepherd Vice President of Operations Jim Gaton as he looked out upon a sea of Jeep owners lined up at the hospital’s south entrance. “At the end of the day, because of them, we’re able to care for our patients and the community.”
The partnership between Christus Good Shepherd and E.T. Jeep Outlaws started about three years ago during a previous storm during which Jeep owners helped staff get to work. That storm paled in comparison to this week’s winter weather, but Justen Hollis, president and founder of E.T. Jeep Outlaws, said Jeep owners mobilized once again.
Each day this week, Christus Good Shepherd has sent Hollis a list of employees who need a ride to and from work. Hollis then coordinates those rides with Jeep owners across East Texas. Jeep owners have come from Longview and the surrounding area to participate, and they’ve transported hospital staff members and even patients as far as Marshall, Tyler, Gilmer and Henderson to help them get safely to and from their homes.
“This has by far been the biggest experience of something like this that we’ve done, just because we’ve never seen this much ice and snow in East Texas,” Hollis said. “If it wasn’t for all of my Jeep members and all of these people here, we wouldn’t have been able to do this at all.”
In between taking Christus staff and patients to and from home or work, Jeep owners have driven Longview’s roads providing help to those in need.
On Thursday, Forson helped cars, trucks and even tractor-trailers that had become stuck in particularly slick portions of the roads get back on their routes.
The driver of a tractor-trailer that became stuck on George Richey Road said he was grateful for the assistance from Forson and two other truck owners who had stopped to help him on the ice. The two trucks and the Jeep tied themselves to each other and with their combined strength managed to help the tractor-trailer.
Fellow Jeep owners Skipper and KT Wright of Liberty City also have performed other errands in between helping Christus employees get to and from work.
KT Wright said Wednesday that the couple went to a store to buy batteries that they delivered to a family in Diana that was in need to keep an insulin pump running. They’ve also delivered pizzas to staff at the Truman W. Smith Children’s Care Center in Gladewater.
At Christus, Wright estimated they have helped about 10 to 15 employees on each run they have been on. Skipper Wright said he’s put about 900 miles on his Jeep since Monday morning as he’s helped people get to and from work.
“It’s been a pleasure helping. They do so much for us,” he said. “And this is personal to me.”
Wright has Stage 4 cancer. He’s been receiving treatment at Texas Oncology in Longview, but he said all medical personnel matter to him, regardless of where they work.
“They do so much me, so if I can help them in any way, that’s what I’m here to do,” he said. “They take care of us way more than we do them. If all I’ve got to do is pick them up and take them home, that’s a small thing to do for them.”
Wright and Forson each said the most difficult challenge late this week has been availability of fuel. Fuel supply is running low, not just in Longview but across East Texas. Gas station supply has been nearly depleted, and it’s been impossible to get more because of the hazardous road conditions.
Jeep club members text each other when they find stations that have fuel so they can continue serving the community.
Hollis said Thursday was one of the worst days on the road as soft snow had been replaced with thick ice following heavy sleet Wednesday. Meanwhile, the list on Thursday morning of staff members needing rides also was one of the longest he had seen.
On top of that, nearby hospitals, including Longview Regional Medical Center, have heard about the Jeep club’s efforts and have reached out for assistance for their staff members, as well.
Hollis also is trying to prioritize other calls he receives. For example, on Thursday the manager of Kroger in Longview requested assistance. Delivery trucks had arrived at Kroger with fresh grocery supplies for the store, where shelves have been nearly depleted. However, the manager didn’t have a way to get from a home in Diana to the store, so Hollis sent a Jeep.
Hollis attributes the support from the East Texas Jeep community to a larger mentality that spreads across many owners of the vehicle.
“Once you own a Jeep, you become part of a society that is one big family,” Hollis said. “Ever since we started this Jeep club and ever since these people have bought a Jeep, they have become family to every other person.”
Gaton said all of Christus’ associates to whom he has spoken have praised the Jeep club for its efforts.
“Everyone has talked about the drivers, the professionalism, how they drive and they think that it’s one of the greatest services that they have the experience of participating in,” Gaton said.
The week has seen long hours for Hollis and Jeep owners who have gotten up at 4 a.m. to begin rides and have ended some nights at 10:30 or 11:30 p.m., but Gaton expressed the gratitude that Christus has for the club which has enabled the hospital to serve the community this week.
“It’s been an awesome week,” Hollis added. “This is an experience I will never forget.”