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Houston on February 20, 2021. Photograph by Michael Starghill
Though Trae is often skeptical—of politicians, religious leaders, and any kind of institutional gatekeepers—he is an optimist when it comes to volunteering. He believes working with the Relief Gang is on many a bucket list. Indeed, the group’s numbers have grown. The Relief Gang now includes a core crew of about twenty, including two operational coordinators who manage and vet assistance requests; a former police officer, who navigates logistics with city officials; and a few retired military officers, who keep each operation moving.
The Saturday night after the February freeze, when the Relief Gang had finished handing out meals on the north side, a few crew members drove down to the Cleme Manor Apartments, in the Fifth Ward, with a fresh supply of barbecue.
Trae asked a group of volunteers standing nearby if they would deliver some meals. A small crowd of residents had grabbed bags of food and dispersed, leaving three quiet girls heavily clad in pink. The older two looked to be about nine years old, and one of them, barefoot despite 50-degree temperatures, carried on her back a younger girl wearing a hoodie that broadcasted her love of unicorns.
“I need meals for them,” Trae told a nearby volunteer. “Three.” He asked if they wanted any water, and someone else jumped in to help the girls carry a case of water that had materialized. Then Trae quickly moved the volunteers and their insulated bags of food through the darkened complex, knocking on doors. “Hey, we got food for y’all!” he shouted as he hustled down the sidewalk. “Water too!”
Trae wouldn’t check his phone till he got back to his truck. The requests filling his and Rogers’s inboxes were evidence of one day’s endless need. But they were also testaments to how the Relief Gang is rewriting old scripts—the ones that say you’ve got nobody and you’re on your own.
“I think what is unique about Trae tha Truth is he doesn’t make appointments. He doesn’t wait for someone else to ask him,” said Jackson Lee. “He’s just right there. He has a sixth sense on people in need, and he is right there.”
This article originally appeared in the April iss