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Time here has essentially stood still since Harvey made his unwelcome arrival on Friday, August 25, 2017. Nobody knows what day of the week it is, what time it is, and most of the anchors to normal schedules and routines such as work, school, and our kids’ activities have temporarily stopped. It is unbelievable how quickly the things that essentially ran your world are no longer a part of it. You quickly are reminded how much of a gift the things you might have complained about really are. For example, many might have grumbled when the first day of school happened in mid-August, but now most people, teachers and students alike, are looking forward to the gift of being able to start school again. Even school is a gift, it is not a given.
For at least the last ten days we have been living in a post-Harvey world that looks, feels, and even smells very differently than our pre-Harvey life. My city and my state don’t necessarily look as pretty as they did ten days ago, but I love them more. They have shown their true colors, and even covered in a light brownish flood hue, their true colors are a beacon of hope.
I’ve not been hanging out here in this corner of the internet as much as normal both because the schools have been shut down, so the two little ones are here 24/7, but also because I’ve been witnessing and participating in the most phenomenal coming together of people that I have ever seen. It literally does not matter what the need has been, folks are meeting it as fast as they learn about it. I’m sure that will get more difficult in the days ahead, but thus far it has not mattered if you needed a boat rescue from your roof, a horse evacuated from a flooded pasture, a place to care for 1,000 lost animals, a new washer and dryer for a shelter, fans, generators, hot meals for dozens, or hundreds, or thousands, able bodied folks ready to tear out potentially dangerous flooded homes, or virtually anything else in-between, there has been someone at the ready to meet that need and then some.
To be honest, I have heard of way more accounts of somewhat frustrated people when they couldn’t find somewhere to volunteer than I have of people who needed help and can’t find it. Again, I’m sure that equation will shift a bit as the weeks roll by, but for the acute portion of the crisis, the response from Texans, Americans, and those around the globe has been more than you could have ever asked for, at least here in my hometown. I’m sure some areas haven’t had it quite as well.
Even if they weren’t impacted by the storm directly, people are literally putting their lives on hold to help others just because. Not for a tax write-off, or for publicity, or because their boss told them to, or to earn a plaque or certificate with their name on it, or because it was an easy way to feel good. People are day after day after day showing up and doing whatever is needed…and many of these jobs they are doing for free are very dirty and back-breaking jobs. They don’t care. They are giving whatever is needed. They are doing whatever is needed. They are often doing it with damage waiting for them back at their own home.
I’ve done my best to keep our efforts to help folks in our town separate from the work side of my life, though sometimes the two do collide a bit. Today is a good example. I am friends on Facebook with a very nice producer at Fox Happening Now. I met him from being in the travel world, but today it led to going on Fox not to talk about travel, but to talk about one of the ways my community is banding together and moving forward.
Since I shared the story on national news, I guess it is okay to share it here, too. My way of helping the town around me has largely been fueled by social media. I didn’t set out for it to be this way, but it started by seeing a call from the local Salvation Army for blankets and pillows. This was immediately after the storm arrived and people were beginning to need a dry place to stay. I posted on my personal Facebook page that I was heading to the store to get blankets and pillows for the Salvation Army if anyone wanted to add to what I was bringing. Someone did. Then another.
While at the Salvation Army, I learned that someone there needed size two diapers, so we went to the store and bought diapers and a couple other things for that young displaced family. Then I learned they were opening up another shelter two doors down, so we headed there and learned that they towels, toiletries, and people to organize clothing donations. We shared those needs to my friends online who were looking for the best way to help.
They responded. Some went to help donate their time. Some brought donations to the shelter. Some couldn’t get there to help, so they decided to send me money so I could add to what I was buying and bringing. Then people more did the same. Then we ended up with enough to buy the new washer and dryer the shelter needed to keep up with the new residents’ needs.
I started sharing what we were doing on Facebook not only so others in the area could get some idea of where the needs were that day (because it all changes quickly), but also so that those who had trusted us to spend their money could see where it was going.
In addition to the big ticket items like a washer and dryer, we banded together and bought fans for hot animals in a pop-up shelter, new underwear and socks for those arriving in shelters, hot meals for hundreds of people cleaning out flooded houses, stocked the fridge for a shelter as they readied to open, got shampoo, toothpaste, formula, bottles, pacifiers, and more to be handed out, and even got a lamp that was recovered from a 90+ year old’s severely flooded house cleaned up and functional in just a 24 hour turnaround time. That couple was lucky in that they were going to be able to stay in an apartment, but now they will have a piece of home to go along with their rented furniture.
The needs are big, the needs are small, the needs will keep coming for weeks and months. The big government and charitable organizations are here and will fulfill roles my friends and I couldn’t dream of touching, but we can be the ones get the new nurse’s bag for the hospice worker who lost hers in her flooded car, and a brand new pair of Lularoe One Size leggings for a mom who lost everything and will mostly start again with largely used items, and the Gatorade the volunteers in a neighborhood are specifically requesting, and the Five Guys burgers for people who are happy to enjoy a hot and greasy slice of normal for five minutes before getting back at it. The small things can become the things that make a big difference.
This massive recovery has to come from all sides to be successful, but the side I am blessed to be on is the one where people are helping people with very specific needs with very little lag time. My friends from around the world are helping with things that people say they need today thanks to the power of sharing on social media and the ability to electronically send funds instantly.
Almost everything has changed around here before Harvey and now after Harvey, including my personal viewpoint on social media. I used it before Harvey, of course, but I thought it probably did at least as much harm as good on the whole. It still does harm, but it has also literally saved lives during Harvey, and is now making the rebuilding of lives much more timely and effective as resources and needs can find each other with virtually no red tape caught in the middle.
I’m honored to have been in the right place at the right time to link generous people with a small number of needs on the ground. I’m also honored to have had the chance to share that story, in the hopes it will spur others to find their own way to help during this and future times of need.
Tomorrow in our town the school doors will open again for what is essentially a second first day of school. This one may not be marked with the fancy first day of school outfits and photos, but it will be flanked with even more gratitude that a pillar of normalcy has returned. We have now been reminded just how easily normal can be washed away.
If you feel like helping in a small but important way, some of the local organizations I can personally vouch for in the wake of Harvey have been The East Texas Dream Center, The Montgomery County Animal Shelter, Operation Pets Alive, and the River Plantation Command Center. There are countless other amazing organizations helping on the ground right now, but these are ones I have seen in action.
I’ve never been more proud of my fellow Texans, my friends and family, and really just humanity in general. We are not all the same here in East Texas, but we are all united in helping each other get through this one hot burger, one dry sock, and swing of the hammer at a time.