There is something surreal about sitting in your house while your city is the 24-hour a day lead on cable news. It’s happened to us before of course, most notably during Hurricane Rita when the city was gridlocked with people trying to evacuate – there’s a good reason it wasn’t mandatory this time – and during Hurricane Ike which brought more wind than water and caused widespread power outages.
There’s a particular kind of anxiety from watching others nearby in trouble and not knowing if you are going to be facing the same issues. You’re fielding call from relatives and friends who assume that you are in imminent danger because so many are. And you are helpless to do much good to anyone until the roads are safe to traverse.
Now that the immediate threat is over, many of us feel relief – and guilt that while we were spared, thousands weren’t. All we want to do now is help. And most remarkably, even those who were affected have no desire to stand idly by. In ways big and small – and make no mistake, small is big right now in Houston – residents have organized en masse to serve friends, neighbors and fellow Houstonians.
One of the biggest ways Leader area residents helped was by manning their own boats and borrowed ones to rescue those whose homes are flooding. Immediately after the storm, a chainsaw brigade cut up fallen trees for neighbors.
While Stacy Gross’ husband was out rescuing people, she put her time home with her kids to good use. She cooked two pork loins, potatoes, king ranch casserole, and dinner rolls that got delivered to Fire Stations 13 and 31. This started an idea chain with friends who did the same.
“Any places that had enough, they took them to a shelter or to feed any other helpers or business working overtime to serve the community,” said Gross. “Others did loads of laundry for those without power.”
Oak Forest resident Barrett Oden had a neighbor bring in 35 gallons of milk from out of town for distribution to neighborhood kids without milk. Grateful recipients were able to replenish their milk supply rather than standing in the long lines at Kroger. For one family that time saved in line was spent to benefit others – the Evans family made and delivered 50 kids’ fun packs with the help of Ziplock bag donations from neighbor Mary Gibson.
Eureka Heights Brewing Company on 18th Street offered free water to those who needed it – neighbors simply had to just bring their own containers for a fill. The brewery took in water on Sunday and suffered some damage, but quickly went to work to dry up and invited neighbors to drop off dontations to take to the George R. Brown; neighbors flocked with dontations.
“We spent Sunday and Monday pumping out the water and trying to make the space usable as a drop off point for those in a much worse situation than us,” Eureka’s Brent Davis said. “Today we’re working our butts off to get the rest of the brewery up and running again.”
Eureka Heights, like many others, used their social platform and audience to let their followers know of updated shelters, donations needed, and suggested relief programs that you could make a monetary donation to. They also poured free beers for the many volunteers.
Oak Forest resident Jennie Rexer and Joseph Apa also made dinner for Station 13, serving up hot beef and sausage stew, biscuits, and apple cobbler.
“The guys couldn’t believe it was still hot,” Apa said. “They were very appreciative.”
A lot of people in the neighborhood have friends in Meyerland, and elsewhere, who flooded. They went to help strip drywall and floors and also delivered sandwiches.
“People are so grateful for the food and help,” said Charity Autry.
Leader area residents have waited in line to be able to volunteer at the George R. Brown convention center where as many as 8,000 people at one time were staying. A nearby shelter which has opened up at Community of Faith Church on Pinemont has gotten attention from Oak Forest residents. Mindy Mitchell and Tracey Irwin put together donated cots there earlier in the week and many others have brought them supplies.
“Laurie Pitzer and I just spent the afternoon there sorting clothes and helping people find what they need,” said Julie Wilson. “New bras, women’s, men’s and kids’ underwear are needed.”
I met a man last Tuesday who had evacuated to George R. Brown and immediately signed up as a volunteer there once he got settled.
“I just didn’t want to sit around,” he told me.
No one wants to sit around. We need to do something for others. Parents who are home with children in HISD which will now not start until September 11 want to know specific ways their kids can help. Everyone says this recovery will be a long road. It’s one we are all ready to walk.