Southeast Texas has been experiencing an adrenaline rush the last seven days, and not the fun kind. More like the when-will-it-stop-oh-my-God sort of adrenaline, the kind that physically exhausts you even if you’ve been lucky enough to have simply been trapped in your (dry) house watching the news and feeling all around horrible for your neighbors, friends, family and businesses throughout the state. Hurricane Harvey has been a beast we could have never imagined.
In classic Texas fashion, people — even many who have flooded homes and ruined vehicles — are giving what they can to support others who Hurricane Harvey tried to victimized. There are four things you can donate right now: Your time, your money, your food, your other stuff.
Most organizations are asking for monetary donations as they are easiest to disperse and most versatile.
Then they are asking for your time and food. There have been some rumors floating around saying there are “enough volunteers” and “volunteers are being turned away.” It might be true that there are enough volunteers at one specific place at a specific time, but organizations that are working in Houston to support the entire southeast region of Texas are definitely not turning away volunteers. In fact, kids as young as six – accompanied by a parent, of course – can volunteer during any of the four-hour shifts at Houston Food Bank. (Houston Food Bank’s location and contact information can be found at the bottom of this article.)
Earlier this week I was constantly updating stories about restaurants and ranchers pulling together to support each other and the community during Harvey recovery, and some of the restaurants that are accepting donations that they’ll haul over to the Red Cross and other drop locations for you. When the Houston Food Bank was able to open their facility yesterday, they made a public plea for volunteers. I decided that because they were significantly short-staffed due to employees and volunteers’ inability to make it to the Houston Food Bank itself and because the area where the Houston Food Bank is located did incur flooding, that I’d help out there. I thought I’d be stacking cans or checking off lists, but I was wrong.
When my friend Courtney and I signed up yesterday for today’s 8 am to noon shift, there were still 30 spots left to fill. But by 5 pm last evening, the remaining 30 spots were filled, so our other friends couldn’t jump in and ride with us. After volunteering today, I see why people come back again and again to serve at the Houston Food Bank, and why they bring co-workers and friends with them.
When you enter the cheery Houston Food Bank warehouse on Portwall, the energy is high. Employees, who are training mostly first-time volunteers, are polite, energetic and positive. Their attitude is contagious. Today, everyone was divided into teams and using the special carousel system designed specifically for the Houston Food Bank. Our job was to pack boxes for the 600-plus local and statewide shelters and agencies that the Houston Food Bank supports.
Some teams were putting together 35-pound boxes of mixed canned goods, while others put together boxes of rice, beans and pasta. There were tables for cleaning supplies to be divvied out and weighed. Tables for pet care, drinks and packaged snacks. The team next to us was assembling 20-pound kits of first aid items. One team was actually assembling boxes, another was breaking down boxes that were beaten up. My group was working on baby care and adult personal hygiene supplies. Some of the donations come from individuals and organizations, but a large majority of them come from national retailers and food brands.
Music plays while you work, and we spent four hours chatting, boxing, organizing, weighing and enjoying the factory-like atmosphere and loading up the rotating shelves with our packages. As it turns out, a few of my team members had their cars destroyed during Harvey; one of them is a co-worker of missing Omni hotel employee Jill Renick. My friend who volunteered with me? Her mother’s home was completely flooded. Everyone was sharing their sadness and despair, but at the same time feeling good about helping others. Really good.
So what did we accomplish? We worked the first shift of the day, and we were able to put together 38,052 pounds of organized packages for shelters in southeast Texas. Included in that were 31,710 meals.
Can you imagine what three or four shifts a day could do for Harvey recovery?!
Many shifts in the immediate future have been fully booked, but there is a need for volunteers later in September; these folks will continue to serve Texas while people piece their lives back together and volunteer numbers in all agencies begin to dwindle. This includes both supporting the emergency pantry, which will open back up in about two weeks, as well as boxing up donations to send all over the state, and feeding Houstonians hot cooked meals through the Keegan Kitchen at Houston Food Bank (shown above), daily.
While I’ve been to the Houston Food Bank before to interview president and CEO Brian Greene and
tour admire their fairly-new digs, I hadn’t ever volunteered there. The workstation in the warehouse is very roomy, but the storage portion of the warehouse is unbelievable. I took a break and walked only about half of the facility, which is massive. According to the fact sheet, this is the square footage that pumped out 50,000, 000 nutritious meals last year:
Houston Food Bank main warehouse (in square feet)
•Dry storage: 110,000
•Dry Dock: 8,919
Two of my friends (and me!) signed up to work another shift on Sunday, September 10. Until then, I ask that you join me and continue to support Houston Restaurant Weeks through September 4, which directly benefits the Houston Food Bank with restaurant donations of $3 to $5 from each meal sold during the month-long event. I learned today that a $10 donation to the Houston Food Bank allows them to provide 30 meals for a family. Remember that monetary donations are needed to pay for the lights and refrigeration, boxes, gloves, cleaning supplies and everything else that the organization needs to write a check for. You can also text HarveyVOL to 41444 to donate $10 by phone.
So, what does it taste like to volunteer? I’d say your favorite comfort food – whatever that is to you – but without the calories.
The Houston Food Bank: 535 Portwall Street Houston, Texas 77029 713-223-3700