Many different groups, clubs, churches, cities, businesses and individuals have stepped up to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey – the storm that FEMA Director William “Brock” Long has described as probably the worst disaster to ever hit Texas.
With early estimates of the damages caused by Harvey in the range of $180 billion, the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday passed a bill providing $7.9 billion in disaster relief for the hurricane victims. Obviously, much more is needed and will come from many different sources, including private donations and a whole array of relief agencies reaching out to help people get back on their feet.
How can you help? How do you know if donating water or canned goods is what is really needed? Where should you send it? How do you know if your donations are going where they need to go?
The Progress Times contacted the president of the Texas VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) to get answers.
The Texas VOAD is an affiliate of the National VOAD and many Texas counties have formed local county VOAD organizations. These VOAD organizations work cooperatively in collaboration with local, regional and national nonprofits, faith-based organizations and governmental agencies to coordinate disaster relief, response and recovery.
Jim McKee, president of the Texas VOAD, when asked what help is needed said, “Things are very fluid and it depends on developing events. Things we see this week could dramatically change next week.” So people and relief organizations need to watch day by day.
“One thing we do not need is used clothing,” he stressed. “Please do not send used clothing.”
“However, we do need items such as undergarments (new in the package), socks, diapers for adults as well as infants. Look at what the trends are; it’s going to be dynamic.”
In the Coastal Bend area there will be a continuous need for supplies, but not massive. He noted that after a disaster as donated supplies come in there will be large stockpiles in one area and another area will have hardly anything. So, they then have to figure out how to redistribute those supplies where they are most needed.
He recommends working with a disaster relief organization that is a member of VOAD, as they work together collaboratively with the governmental agencies to assess needs and coordinate efforts to fill those needs.
Assistance can be provided in many forms, but one of the most effective ways is to donate money to a VOAD member. The website www.txvoad.org shows a long list of VOAD members who have been vetted.
“They are credible organizations. They are not scam artists,” he stressed. The list includes organizations such as American Red Cross, Catholic Charities and The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and many more.
“Donations of monies is extremely important,” McKee said. The resources of organizations will be strained to meet the need due to the sheer magnitude of the damages caused by Harvey.
“The pennies, the dimes will all add up,” he said, encouraging people to donate generously.
For those who wish to volunteer labor, there is indeed a great need now in the Coastal Bend area, and a much greater need will soon rise to the forefront in Houston – all the way to Beaumont – as the floodwaters recede. Help is needed now with clearing downed trees and removal of debris in the communities surrounding Rockport and Aransas Pass. Residents whose homes were flooded need volunteer assistance with muck out – removing water-soaked carpets and sheetrock and other cleanup work that is sorely needed as the first step to restoring their homes to become habitable again.
Houston will provide ample opportunity for volunteer groups to help with flood cleanup, as many thousands of homes are reported to be heavily damaged. But as you might expect, homeowners don’t want just anyone to come into their homes as “volunteers.” Volunteers need to be vetted and verified.
Also, the Texas VOAD website says, “The State of Texas is asking volunteers to not self-deploy, as unexpectedly showing up to any of the communities that have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey will create an additional burden for first responders.”
Volunteers and volunteer organizations are asked to register. One way to do this is on the Texas VOAD website home page, click the link “Please register here to volunteer…” then fill out the form and submit. At the end of this process you will be asked to pay $9 for a background check, which can be done right away or later.
Many churches have formed disaster relief organizations that have already established partner relationships with VOAD, governmental organizations and other charitable organizations that work collaboratively in time of disaster. Catholic Charities, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are all well-known VOAD members, among many others. Prospective volunteers can scroll through the list of member organizations on the VOAD website to see if their church or another organization they are affiliated with is an approved disaster relief partner.
Another method that has been very useful for church groups and other relief organizations that provide volunteer labor in the aftermath of disasters is www.crisiscleanup.org. This is a very well thought out web portal by a nonprofit that coordinates and collaborates with many different pre-approved disaster relief organizations, including American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Disaster victims can report their needs either by the telephone hotline or by registering on the website. Then, relief organizations already vetted can register with the site to view locations needing assistance. When these organizations deploy work teams, they can “claim” specific locations that they can help with. Other relief organizations can see which projects are already claimed and which are still available.
Crisis Cleanup is for relief organizations, not for individual volunteers. So you must be part of an approved relief organization to participate.
McKee said he pleased to see the outpouring of support by small towns and cities all across the state – cities such as Mission – that have responded and continue to respond to the staggering needs of their fellow Texans.