Watching Hurricane (now Tropical Storm) Harvey ravage the western Gulf Coast, with no apparent intention of leaving before the entire region is under water, and feeling helpless? Reasonable. When what people need is to be literally boatlifted from their flooded homes, it’s hard to sit hundreds of miles away and feel like there’s nothing you can do to make anything better.
But you can! There are things you can do to help. Texas Monthly has a pretty comprehensive (from what I’m told) list of local organizations that need help in providing help (and here are some more), and this Twitter thread is being regularly updated with more:
Here’s how to do it.
If you aren’t close to the affected area, there’s really one truly helpful option.
Donations of funds. For most people who aren’t close to the disaster zone, the most valuable thing you can do is donate money. As noted below, donations of items can be more trouble than good, but pretty much every aid organization operating in the Houston area and surrounds can benefit from money. If your employer has a donation-matching program, try to get them involved. If not, Facebook will match your donation.
Locals — the ones with some degree of mobility and/or minimal damage, at least — have more options for helping.
Boats. Seriously, boats. Houston remains flooded, and the only way to rescue people stranded in their homes is with boats and high-water vehicles. If you’re nearby and you have a boat that can carry people, give the authorities a call to volunteer your help. Don’t just motor on in there without checking first, but definitely call to offer this most crucial resource. (The Cajun Navy has already volunteered their services, and if you need a smile, imagine an armada of airboats charging in to the tune of a zydeco cover of “Ride of the Valkyries.”)
Help. Aid organizations are in dire need of volunteers in a variety of forms. Of course shelters and food banks need volunteers. The SPCA of Texas and Austin Pets Alive!, for instance, are taking in a lot of animals that have been displaced by the storm, and they need homes to foster those animals until their owners can take them back. Locals can also donate blood. And if you’re nearby and able to take in evacuees, you can sign up for Airbnb for free to donate your spare room to the rescue efforts.
Good food. When you’re donating food to a food bank, something (within reason) is better than nothing, but reasonably healthy something is better than something high-sodium and nearly expired. If you have the wherewithal, give hurricane victims shelf-stable, healthy, good-tasting stuff. Just because they’ll probably be grateful for anything they can get under the circumstances, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve better when there are healthy alternatives out there.
What doesn’t help
In-kind donations. There are a lot of shelters and aid organizations in Texas that need blankets, toiletries, baby supples, food, and other necessities of living. An 18-wheeler full of those items trucked in from Minnesota isn’t going to be beneficial — it’s not going to be able to negotiate the flood waters, and there’s a risk of organizations ending up with a glut of some items and a dearth of others. Save the donations of goods for later — for now, funds allow organizations to buy the items they need in the quantities they can handle.
(If you’re a local, as noted above, it’s somewhat easier to get the right in-kind donations to the right places — just check with the organization beforehand to make sure you’re giving them what they need.)
#Harvey thoughts and prayers. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t think and pray about hurricane victims in Texas. (The effectiveness of T&P is debatable, but there’s generally no harm in T&Ping as long as it’s accompanied by action.) But thinking and praying on Twitter and hashtagging it #Houston or #Harvey legitimately does do some harm. There are people in the disaster zone who have nothing but social media on their swiftly dying phones to find updates and resources and call for help. Clogging up their feeds with your T&P makes it harder for them to find that help. For the time being, treat those hashtags like emergency phone lines — leave them for emergency calls only, and if you find it absolutely necessary to let the twittersphere know that you’re thinking and praying, stick to something like #prayersforTexas or whatever.
And the same things goes for political discussion, for the record. If you want to talk about the weaknesses of our disaster response system or Trump’s half-assed response to the disaster, save it for other hashtags and leave #Houston and #Harvey (and others) for people in urgent need.
Political BS. It’s valid to discuss Trump’s aforementioned half-assed response, or his tweets about The Wall or his electoral margin in Missouri (like seriously, dude, that was nine months ago, and you’re the president of the entire United States now — no one cares about your delicate ego) while southern Texas was drowning. It’s valid to talk about Trump rolling back infrastructure standards that include flood protection, or about ICE refusing to close immigration checkpoints while people were trying to escape the storm. I’m serious — there’s only so much time a person can spend #thinkingandpraying and donating, and these other topics are reasonable. Addressing these issues and preventing future tragedies is important.
But if you’re arguing that undocumented immigrants don’t deserve help because of the way they came to this country, or that people in Texas are being punished because the state went red in 2016, or that the state doesn’t deserve aid because its senators voted against aid for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, or that people who didn’t have the resources to evacuate deserve what they get, you just need to shut the hell up. Just shut the hell up. We’re talking about human freaking beings here — human beings — and if you seriously think they need to die, or that their cities shouldn’t be rebuilt, because you have political beef with people you’ve never even met before, you are a horrible person and bad things should happen to you forever.
But if you aren’t like that, and you do what you can with the resources you have to help in a truly beneficial way, you’re not a horrible person, and good things should happen to you a lot. A lot.