Privileged to Help

by The Sassy Texan
Texas, USA

I want everyone to know how my small town reacted to help Hurricane Katrina survivors. We’re an hour outside Houston, three hours from Louisiana. When hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in September 2005, we had no idea it would affect our community.

Privileged to HelpWhen Katrina hit, we sprang into action. Blood, food and clothing drives, and fundraisers… all for people we’d never meet. Or so we thought.

Wednesday evening evacuees began to arrive. Hundreds of people arrived daily, with absolutely nothing. They spent everything they had getting here. Many stopped… simply because their gas tank was empty.

Emails flew with assistance offers and volunteer opportunities. Our town fire department became command center for all relief efforts. Thursday afternoon I called. Ten minutes later I walked into the heart of our relief effort.

In two days, we helped several hundred people. Ninety percent needed money, food, clothing, household supplies, toiletries, medicine, jobs, gas, shelter and help with pets. Yet their most devastating need was contacting people who stayed behind — they assumed close friends and family have died.

From the evacuees’ intake form, volunteers gathered a resource packet for the family. Then volunteers explained how to meet immediate needs for clothes, food and gas. Our distribution center was close. I walked people outside, showed them the building, and they were relieved and hopeful — for the first time in days.

But we had people sick or injured pre-hurricane who needed medical attention: pregnant women, newborns, people in the lowest depths of depression. Our shelters needed hospital beds, always more cots.

Hardest for me was older men who broke down asking for help. I always explained that we’re neighbors, this is what neighbors do. They would do the same for us, and may have to one day.

Churches became shelters and established meal rotations to feed hundreds. The college allowed evacuees to late-register at in-state tuition rates, and considered scholarships. Bureaucracies turned out to have hearts inside.

Individuals distributed supplies, and offered homes. Local schools enrolled hundreds of students. The high school held a kid’s event with gifts, games, Snocones and hot dogs. It may sound trivial, but these kids needed to be kids if only for moments.

I’d have invited these people join our community permanently, but most just wanted to go home. I’m proud to have met such amazingly strong people, who added a lot to our community, if only temporarily.

The first night I spent hours entering names and needs into the RC database. I nearly cried over the constant needs — so many lacking so much. Then I picked up the intake form of an elderly couple. Like everyone else, they needed everything — everything you and I take for granted.

But out at the side she added, “We will pray for everyone and help any way we can.” These people, with nothing, offered their help.

I’m glad so many in our town stepped up to help, but we were completely humbled by the courage and generous spirit of our guests.

Originally published as HeroicStories #723 on Aug 31, 2007

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