Charity in Action


Four months before the storm, we sold a suburban house of 21 years and moved to the 40th floor of a highrise in the heart of downtown, 2 blocks from the bayou. Saturday was uneventful, and we were beginning to feel that Harvey was yet another overhyped weather event. We walked down to the Buffalo Bayou a couple times and saw that the somewhat elevated level was actually lower than it had been on Friday.

Sunday morning I looked out the window and saw water. I went immediately to our basement storage unit and saw that a pump failed and it was beginning to take on water. I came and got my husband and we began moving many, many boxes out of the unit. The freight elevator ceased functioning in the rising water so this meant carrying heavy items up many stairs. We got all but a large table that we elevated on 4 clothing stuffed plastic bins (later these items floated and resettled themselves in the water).

Then the waiting began. We lost water intermittently on Sunday, but that pump situation was ultimately resolved. The elevators were removed from service for roughly 3 days because the basement flooding soaked the cables, ensuring sufficient exercise. We lost television service and internet for 5 or 6 days. But we never lost the most important: electricity and the beautiful air conditioning.

By Tuesday I was slightly crazy so I walked to the convention center which was, at that point, housing its peak of 10,000 people. The generosity of Houstonians was immediately apparent with mountains of donations lining the back of the giant center with heavy pedestrian traffic bringing more. I then waited in line with countless other volunteers, finally signing in then skirting the required “orientation.” I began helping by distributing wheel chairs to the medical hubs in the different halls, giving me a chance to really see what was occurring. I was struck by feeling of calmness, allaying my fears of finding the basest human survival instincts described at the New Orleans Superdome. Evacuees were polite and resigned, sleeping and sitting in family groups. Many gathered flattened cardboard to create walls to give them their own space. The most heartbreaking situation I saw was a pregnant mother being transported to a hospital, having to leave her 5, 4, and 2 year old in the hands of strangers as she knew no one else at the shelter.

I finally made my way to the food intake area where I help sort and organize the flood of incoming food. Ready to eat foods were sent up the the dinner line to accompany the pallets of ready to eat meals, heated in some portable ovens. Again, evacuees were patient and polite. Watching a Red Cross Shelter in action was truly awe-inspiring, having worked in many volunteer situations. The operation is like a massive animal, operating without a head. I tried unsuccessfully to find out the ultimate destination of the canned foods, trying to organize most effectively for the future. I never found anyone “in charge.” Leadership was naturally taken up by the volunteer that had been there the longest and had the right personality. And it worked. Ten thousand people were fed, cots and blankets were distributed, varying degrees of medical care were provided, medication was distributed. When I left near 10:00pm, a huge new crop of volunteers were undergoing orientation.

Wednesday I felt I could safely get to the food pantry where I have volunteered for years out in Katy. With unfortunate timing, I had agreed to become the Director beginning 2 days before, after foisting my youngest child off on the university system. The pantry got about a foot of water in it. Especially heartbreaking because we had just finished a slight expansion and complete redo about 3 weeks before. If you have never had the privilege of cleaning up flood water, it is impressively dirty, leaving sandy debris and general “ick” everywhere. While we were moving every shelf inside, cutting out sheetrock, and discarding food that had been on the bottom shelves, volumes of donations were arriving and being staged outside until we could move them in.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday are a bit of a blur. I was at the pantry about 12 hours each day. In the parking lot in front we set up a drive through service for those in need. Sometimes, we had 10 or more cars being served at a time. Over those three days, we helped over 1000 households, representing 1000s of adults and children. While this circus was occurring in the front, the back door was equally busy. Cars, trucks and trailers lined up to drop off donations.To satisfy our ruling body, all items donated need to weighed on the way in. A single 18” square scale is what we have to process donations that may be 2000 lbs. for a trailer. Food is weighed and tabulated again on its way out. Our early numbers show we have distributed more than 120,000 lbs. of foods, diapers, and personal care items.

The next few days and weeks will be interested. Houston is nowhere near being able to assess the storm damage. Many people are still not able to get to their homes to see if flooding has occurred. Interstate 10, in a section between myself and the food pantry, is being kept dry by a portable berm over which water has been pumped. Many major streets and intersections are still underwater despite going several days now without rain. The statistic I saw recently was that Houston received 51" of raining a few days. Our average annual rainfall is 47”.




Charity in Action


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start=2017-08-26; end=2017-09-02; scheme=ISO 8601;