I live in Houston. For some of you that may say it all because you know what that means. We’re living under a constant barrage of pleas, requests, media stories, and personal tales which leads everyone to question what can they do to help. The George R. Brown Convention Center and the Reliant Center are full of evacuees, but the city of Houston has absorbed even more displaced storm victims than the media’s representation might lead you to think. Across the city hundreds and thousands of evacuees are being sheltered in hotels and motels, with friends and family, in homes provided by open-armed residents, and all are being met with a hug and a helping hand. Active compassion is alive and well in Houston.
This afternoon the first wave of volunteers are being trained at Second Baptist Church. Six thousand are expected and four or five more sessions planned for this week alone. This morning volunteers from across the city are making their way to the convention center and Reliant Center ready to do whatever is asked of them. Churches across the city are gathering food and goods, businesses are opening up their restaurants, their supplies, their labor force to help out in this unplanned and unexpected emergency. City governments are relaxing health laws and residential restrictions to accommodate this sudden influx into Houston and neighboring cities. But there is more.
One woman couldn’t stay home any longer. She had to find some way to help. Armed with her cell phone, she stormed the convention center parking area and began to work her way from one lost person to another offering to make phone calls to their loved ones, seeking to reconnect families, hoping to make some small difference in the live of just one individual. She took their names, recorded their family and friends names and phone numbers, and when she went home last night she worked into the early morning hours making phone calls and managed to reunite six families. She is back there today, repeating the process.
Her story, heard this morning on a local radio show, inspired a man to pack up his laptop, grab his cell phone, and head down to the convention center to do the same thing. Another man, an owner of a local motorcycle shop, took 260 people to dinner yesterday at local restaurant. He gave them a hot meal. This is how the ordinary people in Houston are responding. Some are working 15-16 hours shifts volunteering their time and their labor to help make a difference. Others are clearing out their closets, emptying their toy boxes, pulling books off their bookshelves and carting them to one of the local drop off stations. Others are buying food and clothing. Two women who felt called to do something went to the local Dollar store and each spent one hundred dollars to buy items that they knew the evacuees would need.
Which brings me to the question of what a writer can do. That is what confronted me this morning as I listened to these stories. What can I do with my time and talent when so much is being done? As a writer my first response is to write. So my immediate response is to share with you some of the stories that I’ve heard in the hope that these stories may inspire you and others to find some way you, too, can respond to that instant urge of wanting to help. Later today I plan to attend the volunteer training and hope to be able to help pass the word along about what people can do and how they can help.
There are so many stories that need to be recorded. In the days and weeks that follow these people will want to tell their stories. It’s important to have a record of what they went through. And there are stories unfolding even as you read this blog entry about local heroes, ordinary people who are responding to this tragedy in an extraordinary way. Who are they? What are they doing? How can their stories help the rest of us? What can they teach us?
So yes, I do think there are many ways I can be of help in the days to follow. Immediate needs are food, water, shelter and medicines but the big push in Houston is to provide care and help and to do it in a way that adds to the dignity and independence of those who are now in need.
It’s not easy to suddenly establish a city within a city the way Houston has done with both the George R. Brown Convention Center and with Reliant Center but they are doing it. It’s not going to be easy for the nation to absorb the hundreds of thousands of evacuees left homeless and penniless in Katrina’s wake but the nation will do it. It’s not easy to drop everything and respond immediately to a sudden crisis but individuals are doing it over and over and over again. The simple act of making a phone call can provide an ever-widening ripple that can inspire hundreds to make a difference. A simple act of kindness can, indeed, have an impact.
What will you do today?
Houston’s Local 2 News is providing a great resource page on ways to help the Katrina evacuees.