Our good friend Kim, who lives near Houston, Texas talks more about volunteering with the recovery efforts and community resiliency.
I began by volunteering with home demo at a local neighborhood. I stopped by the neighborhood clubhouse to get my assignment and headed to the house address. As I drove through the neighborhood, parts of it were completely fine, then you knew exactly where the flooding started….it was like crossing over into a war zone…destruction and debris scattered all over yards and piled high at the curbs. I made my way to this house – a single story home in a cul-de-sac where 4 feet of water had entered every single room. There were several men there tearing out sheetrock. I found and met the home owner Pat (not real name) – her and her husband (guessing they’re about 60 years old) have lived there for 10 years, yet never experienced flooding of this home. Fortunately, they had experience with flood relief when helping neighbors with their flooded homes in past storms. Pat asked me if I’d ever done this type of work before and I blankly replied no. She warned me of the unclean water still in the home, possible snakes or other creatures, the dust and smells from the torn-out walls, etc. I entered the home with tall waterproof boots, mask and gloves, and worked in the kitchen area as she requested. As I worked and made small talk with the others there, I was amazed at several things – 1) how destructive flooding can be, and 2) the good will of strangers…all of us working at Pat’s house had never met her before. A husband/wife couple sent their 2 young children to spend a few days with grandparents so they could start driving through various affected neighborhoods, stopping at homes to see if they could be of help. Others regularly stopped by offering home owners and workers snacks, beverages, and meals. In the weeks to come, I maintained contact with Pat. Her and her husband initially were either staying at a friend’s home or sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of her husband’s office where he owned a local small computer repair business. They eventually transitioned to a hotel and started looking for a RV to purchase as they wanted to park it in their driveway to be close to their home site. Pat works full-time and her company allowed her 2 weeks off during the hurricane, but then she had to return to work. I dropped by another morning and spent time packing up her belongings in boxes to be taken to temporary storage.
A woman who works at my husband’s central office in Houston had her house flood…again! Her family just finished home repair from a prior heavy rainstorm over a year ago. My husband and a few co-workers drove down to her home, south of Houston, and did the initial clean-out where there had been waist-deep water throughout the home. They moved out large furniture, mattresses, refrigerator, etc. and threw into a heap on the front lawn as nothing could be saved.
A local warehouse, used to store construction supplies, was turned into a temporary donation supply site. I took extra bedding and air mattresses to donate. Cars were lined up from the warehouse, through the large parking lot, and onto the main road, as police officers directed traffic flow due to the high volume of donations being dropped off. A local convention center transitioned into a temporary shelter for flood victims. The main convention area was filled with cots/air mattresses. There was a mobile shower unit set up outside in the parking lot. A section of the hallway was turned into a childcare area for babies and toddlers, and a homework area for school age children. School buses would come by each morning and pick up children to take them to their schools. The other section of the hallway had several service tables set up for people to go to, for example, FEMA, medical care, etc. Other large conference rooms were used for clothing, bedding, and other supplies. Each person needing an item was allowed to come through, their name was logged, and told to take what they needed for that day only. There was a team of women picking up laundry routinely, laundering and returning to the shelter. But with the sheer volume of people staying there and amount of dirty laundry, it was hard to keep up with, so I was able to help out with that.
The Montgomery Food Pantry stayed extremely busy during Harvey. In addition to the food pantry’s established community programs, there was a large need for donated food items to ship to all of the temporary shelters. A steady stream of volunteers worked at the food pantry during the initial weeks post-Harvey. In an assembly line fashion, I volunteered with others filling wood pallets with canned food and other non-perishable items, that were wrapped and shipped to Houston areas. Our local schools held a can food drive at the high school hosted by teachers and students. It was a fun atmosphere and felt like a parade as my boys and I dropped off food items – many teachers and staff lined the high school parking lot shouting ‘thank you’ to all the cars donating food, the cheerleaders and football players cheered everyone on, and the high school band played. It was so nice to see smiles and community support during such a devastating time.
In the weeks after Harvey when school, work routines, and life normalized, there are still ongoing flood relief efforts. I’m so grateful to the several out-of-state family & friends who sent monetary donations to be used in our flood volunteering – money was used to purchase donated supplies and also passed along to my church’s flood relief fund. The church efforts continue with meal trains for specific families, demo clean up, monetary funds, fundraisers, and now restoration teams. Whether it’s taking a meal to a family, buying a t-shirt from a fundraiser, driving through an impacted neighborhood with food, watching a friend’s child so they can help volunteer at someone’s home, or even prayers, I remind myself that every little bit helps in some way. It’s about DOING what we were called to do…being the hands and feet…loving your neighbor as yourself…helping others as much as you can…
I’ll end with sharing a brief conversation I had one day as I was driving through a flooded neighborhood with donuts and water, stopping every few houses to offer someone a snack break. A man from FEMA asked me who I was with, and I told him my church has scheduled volunteers coming through each day with snacks, meals, demo help, etc. He said he’s been with several flood relief assignments in the past, but he’s NEVER SEEN a community come together like Houston! He was amazed by the love and outpouring of community support all over the city. I smiled and thanked him for such a sincere comment. I know Houston will pull through this natural disaster and I am proud to be a part of the effort – #HOUSTONSTRONG 🙂
Thanks so much Kim! We all appreciate hearing about what hurricane relief really looks like and that it takes a village.
In case you missed it, you can find Part 1 here!