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How to help with Texas — and what doesn’t help

Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Rick Johnson carries two children through waist-deep flood waters in Houston, Texas
We can’t all be Rick Johnson. (Photo credit Harris County Sheriff’s Office)

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.

What helps

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.

One thought on

  1. Houston checking in.

    It’s been a rough week.

    In addition to the excellent above list, I’d like to ask two more things:

    1. Please STOP scolding us for not evacuating. Just stop.

    If you are telling us we should have evacuated, you are saying that we should have evacuated a metropolitan region with the population of the state of Missouri over an area the size of the state of Connecticut, with limited public transportation, only two safe roads out (remember that the evacuation routes to the south and west were straight into the eye of the storm and east was flooding too….leaving only two highways for 6.5 million people) in less than 48 hours. It’s not possible. We tried that during Hurricane Rita in 2005 and it was a disaster. More people died on the road than in the storm. If the storm hadn’t swung to the east at the last minute, thousands of people would have been forced to ride out a category 4 storm in their cars. Many of them would have drowned.

    Most people in the US who die in hurricanes die in water. Katrina aside, most deaths during hurricanes since 1990 have been people who died in their cars, usually getting trapped in floodwaters and drowning. Staying home or somewhere else that is not a vehicle is safer than being in a car, EVEN WHEN YOU ARE WAIST-DEEP IN WATER. People who were waist-deep in water generally were able to get out. 60 people are confirmed dead so far and the majority of them drowned in their cars.

    Once the immediate crisis is over, it’s fair to start going over what went wrong and where and why, so that for the next storm we do a better job. Part of that process is taking the lessons from previous storms and seeing if we took them or not. For Rita, we did. Don’t throw shade at us for having a process that works so we follow it.

    So, yeah. This isn’t our first time at the rodeo. Please stop that, and if you hear it, shut it down.

    2. When you consider the storm, please remember it’s not JUST the Houston metro area. The storm in Texas alone affected over 300 miles of coastline. It caused a lot of trouble in western Louisiana as well. About 3 out of every 100 people in the whole US were affected by this storm in Texas alone.

    The smaller towns will need as much support if not more due to their smaller size and proportional lack of resources. Some of the small towns close to landfall are obliterated right now — those people need help and kindness and dignified treatment just as much as Houston.

    If you have the means to donate and can spread your donations to encompass multiple areas, or you donate to a large charity that will service the entire region, please do so.

    (Thanks for all the love, y’all. It’ll take us a bit to get sorted out, but we’ll get there. Come on by when you can…maybe not in August, though. Try April. We have tacos, Saturn V rockets, and an amazing band called The Suffers that you should hear. We also have some deeply-rooted systematic problems, but we’re working on them, and even though it’s slow progress it’s forward progress all the same.

    Did I mention we have tacos?)

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