Hurricane Harvey update
Hurricane Harvey 2017 -
" It Started with a walker " ...
The Tale of Novice Charity Organizers
September 18, 2017 •
As with most tales, even the ones that actually happened, we need to set the scene; One evening immediately following the rainful impact of hurricane Harvey, most of the world felt the news impact and vivid images of elderly folks being pulled from the rising flood waters in Houston, Texas.
It was that evening the family agreed we need to do something.
Sitting in a comfortable living room in Wisconsin watching our Texas neighbors loosing their homes and businesses was no longer an option nor acceptable.
It was no longer an option seeing that elderly folks would be stranded in a shelter without being able to feel the security of having their walker or cane to be able to move around.
It was no longer an option seeing rescue volunteers lack the most simple safety gear while trying to help the less fortunate.
The mission the morning after became; let's purchase all the Walkers, Canes and Rubber boots we can find at Goodwill and St. Vincent stores in South Eastern Wisconsin. It was a great day! We rounded up over 30 walkers and 10 canes and a large bin full of rubber boots.
As most of the walkers needed some good cleaning and sanitizing, the work in the driveway became scrubbing away. With the commotion and the large amount of aluminum outside the house, neighbors started asking questions about our doings and the funny jokes about plans to open an elderly home in our basement turned to "how can we help you".
Not knowing what flood victims need the most, the answer became "anything and everything you can help with will be greatly appreciated"....
Calls and emails went out to Safety Friends in the Wind Industry to gather Hardhats, Gloves, High Visibility Vests and other Safety Gear. Flyers were placed in mailboxes and social media outreach kicked into high gear with the help of the tenage family members and neighbors.
Before long, this mission took a life of its own.
Donations came in from next neighbors and other neighborhoods, safety friends, an elderly home 40 miles away, local businesses and the local middle school also contributed.
It became an overwhelming amount of donations that arrived at the door step in just a week.
The generosity was mind blowing and humbling!
It soon became clear that shipping the donation with UPS was no longer an option, let alone where should it be shipped to. This is where mining your network comes in. Who knows who and how can we help each other?
A recent safety contact at Gloveguard just outside Houston made the recommendation of a trustworthy relief organization based on experience from past flooding.
Mukwonago Park View Middle School teacher Kaitlin H. reached out to some college friends now teaching in Houston and facilitated these contacts. A plan was firming up...
The two car garage had been turned into a relatively well organized sorting, folding and packing center.
Bins and boxes were clearly labelled with the items donated, clothing had been sorted into gender and age categories. A 20 foot enclosed trailer was being packed to the brim and the truck got a fresh oil change.
The next part of the journey was mentally preparing for a five day solo drive, 1134 mile from Wisconsin to Houston Texas, countless hours in backed up Houston traffic and another 1134 miles right back again.
On a drive like this You come to understand that everything IS bigger in Texas.
After driving for a full 12 hours you finally get through four States and reach the Texas State line. At that point you come to realize that you still have another 8 hours of driving in front of you.
Even the bugs are bigger in Texas, so when your hear the sounds of a pelting rainstorm hitting your windshield and you can't clear your wind shield with your wipers and washer fluid then You know you must have hit a swarm of Texas Lovebugs (Plecia Nearctica).
Normally they don't stick around for more than a few days and die off fast after mating, but because of the rain and standing water they seemed to have become the National Bird of Texas and no one seemed sad that I must have killed +10,000 of the love critters with the front of the truck and trailer.
Rolling into Houston around midnight it was too dark to see anything but the blinding headlights from the truck load after truck load filled with lumber, drywall and plywood.
The first noticeable impact of Hurricane Harvey became clear the following morning at breakfast.
As an avid frequent stayer at airport hotels around the country, this was not the normal breakfast crowd! The typical salespeople rushing through a lack luster continental breakfast were changed out with Families with Children and Relief workers.
The children should be in school and summer vacation a past memory by now, and in this case it was distress in the eyes of mothers and families of 4 to 6 crammed into a hotel room for days and nights.
The relief workers, tireless, all in t-shirts / polo shirts labeled with the names of the organization they represent. FEMA, US Corp of Engineers, Nurse and Care taker organization alike were conducting team meetings reviewing spreadsheets and the action plans for the day.
It was at that breakfast I meet Holly, a sweet little old lady from FEMA asking me "where do you come from" I guess I stood out, as I did not have a logo on my shirt. I explained the story above and finished up by saying, "I have no experience in relief efforts, what should I do next". Holly gave me a hug and said "You will be just fine, you have already done the hard work, and that is getting out there and actually doing something". Holly, having travelled from disaster to disaster, with 15 years of experience, is now in charge of training younger relief workers in how to inspect homes after disasters to ensure they are safe to live in.
With the encouraging words from my new friend Holly and the BEST and upgraded continental breakfast, compliments of Springhill Suites by Marriott, the first stop for donation drop-off became a small kindergarten north of Houston.
The Small Steps Nurturing Center (SSNC) itself was spared from flood damages, but the families of the children attending were not!
SSNC core focus is to provide care, learning and two meals a day to the small children of families with an annual income of less than $15,000 per year. Small Steps with its 180 kids at two facilies became the receipients of a lot of school supplies as well as diapers and other child care items. Small Steps Nurturing Center is a non profit organization, 100% sponsored by private and community donation. The staff and management is top notch and it was such a pleasure touring the facility and meeting the wonderful kids.
More information and donations can be made at: https://ssnc.org/
Next stop became Clear Creek Relief, an organization well known locally for their volunteer work in connection with flooded homes. By the time of arrival 1500 volunteers had already gutted and cleaned 600 homes contaminated with dirty and polluted water, as well fighting fast spreading black mold. 800 additional homes were on the waiting list for similar treatment.
Dave and Thomas explained they had already turned their large inventory of donated supplies 3 times so far and as soon as donated supplies came in they went right back out to the volunteers.
Every time I asked them do you want the chairs as well, or how about the dog food...the answer was "we have a home for it all"....
The take away; Relief Organization appreciate all relevant donations as long as it is in new or in clean, folded, sorted and labeled condition. They simply don't have the manpower to sort bags after bags of mixed donation or mixed sizes nor the ability to clean dirty clothing prior to handing it out.
More information and donations can be made at: http://clearcreekrelief.org/
On my way out, Dave offered a bottle of cold water and a Dallas Cowboys styrofoam cooler for the return trip. Knowing that several donations from a Wisconsin included Green Packers and Milwaukee Brewers apparel, I gracefully accepted the gift....One word of caution though, leaving a styrofoam cooler inside the truck with 1134 miles of styrofoam squeaking will drive you crazy, but the thought was nice and very much appreciated.
After a short Safety Equipment drop off at OSHA in South Houston, the thankful inspectors said, "usually we just write people up for non-compliance, but now we can actually help the volunteers do their work safely, that is a nice feeling".
Last stop of the day was at Lamar High School, a diverse school in the inner part of Houston. Meet by grateful faculty members and with help from students we emptied out the remainder of the donations from the truck and trailer. The comforting news was that though the school was showing its age, funds had been approved prior to Harvey for the construction of a new high school being able to facilitate the 3000 students with a teacher ratio of 35 students per teacher. Wow, they are busy teachers also in Texas...
As the journey turned back towards Wisconsin, there was ample time to reflect on the journey and lesson learned.
The feeling of accomplishment along with the sadness of seeing people's belongings in huge piles outside house after house, gave way to motivation and energy for what should the next charity drive be for.
Too soon after the impact of Hurricane Harvey, the National media left Texas to cover the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma in Florida. It was, as if the Houston area devastation were forgotten overnight. Understandably so, Florida needed the news coverage as well, but allow me though to clearly state, the cleanup and recovery after Harvey has just begun and help will be needed for a long long time to come. Keep it coming....
No longer novice charity coordinators we can only encourage those of you who have thought of doing the same, Do It! The learning curve is short and steep, it is hard work, but the human reward of seeing everyone coming together for the same cause is humbling to the core.
A huge "Thank You" goes out to all of those who made this mission possible through your generous donations and contribution of time.
Your donations were all delivered and received with sincere appreciation from those in need.
This trip and tale may have come to an end, but in reality it is just the beginnning with so many more stories and chapters to follow.
Stay Safe and Always Be Fund Raising for a Great Cause,
The Pedersen's, Mukwonago, Wisconsin