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Charities Respond To Harvey

The philanthropic community is responding to the Gulf Coast, which is reeling as the toll of Hurricane Harvey is being tabulated all while rains continue to hit the area. Some organizations have been thrust into disaster response while also dealing with the devastation in their own backyard.

Staff at the Greater Houston Community Foundation have been working and coordinating response remotely, according to Renee Wizig-Barrios, senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer. Power has been restored to the foundation’s office building and damage is not thought to be severe but flooding in the streets has made the headquarters inaccessible. It is not yet known when the facility will be available, though the hope is for later this week. Staff and supporters are facing personal crises as, in some cases, significant flooding has caused considerable damage to their homes, she said.

The foundation’s primary role has been to coordinate donation efforts as it has numerous times before such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and 2016 storm relief. In coordination with the city government, the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund was launched Sunday evening and had received $30,000 by 8 a.m. today.
The city and direct-responders have prioritized safety and rescue, making sure that those stranded in their homes due to flooding make it out safely. Other immediate needs that have surfaced in the direct aftermath of the storm include shelter, transportation, and clothing, according to Wizig-Barrios, also noting the difficulties some local nonprofits have had in meeting needs while facing their own brick-and-mortar damage.

Medium- and long-term needs are likely to include housing, health counseling on account of the trauma associated with the event, and employment services given the destruction of area businesses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should fill some gaps, but Wizig-Barrios cited Houston’s significant undocumented immigrant population and noted that many people might have lost their homes who are not eligible for FEMA support.
“It’s unprecedented. There’s still a lot of rain and it’s still an uncertain time,” she said.

The unique scope of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction makes future grant planning difficult to project. In the past, the foundation has used initial fund dollars to fund things like shelters and hotel stays that FEMA is unable to address right away. Then, as subsequent dollars flow in, additional rounds of funding are distributed to meet medium- and long-term needs like case management and home repair. Wizig-Barrios anticipates distributions to start going to responding nonprofits under the counsel of an advisory committee after the emergency evacuation stage of response concludes.
The expectation is that funding will flow in earnest for the next five to 10 days, while the issue is front of mind for donors, and that grant funding will be distributed in multiple rounds with a focus on finding pockets within the community in greatest need.

“We know that the vulnerable of our community, whether it be the elderly, low-income families…if they were already living on the margins, this could be devastating,” said Wizig-Barrios.

Houston Food Bank’s warehouse is currently surrounded by high water and is inaccessible to staff and volunteers, a representative said via email. The intention is to respond by distributing food and cleaning supplies at area food pantries, soup kitchens, and other locales as directed by city and county authorities. In the meantime, a Hurricane Harvey-specific donation page has been launched and volunteers are being sought for when operations resume.

While the Houston Food Bank is under water, Food Bank of Corpus Christi – serving 11 counties south of Houston along the Gulf Coast – is dealing with extensive roof damage to its facility, according to Bea Hanson, executive director. The organization’s state association, Austin-based Feeding Texas, has helped network with other food banks in the state to serve as staging centers. From there, the Corpus Christi affiliate has directed the staging areas to deliver food and supplies to areas as needed.

Additional food and supply donations are being funneled through Feeding Texas and being staged at affiliate locations. The food bank has, in particular, depended on supply donations from the south and west – areas like San Antonio and the Rio Grande region – as there have been difficulties transporting supplies from further north given the considerable flooding. Hanson said that the food bank has been inundated with calls offering support since Sunday and those interested in helping have been asked to make monetary donations on the organizations website so that specific products of need might be purchased and funds can be used to offset overtime and roof repair costs.

Hanson expects a long recovery once immediate needs are met. Though Corpus Christi and the surrounding area was not hit as hard as Houston, the communities are smaller and dependent on industries such as tourism, which will likely decline for a time. “We know that there are families that lost everything,” she said. “We know that there will be an economic impact in this community and they will be depending on us for food and supplies.”

Leaders at Carter BloodCare, headquartered in Bedford, Texas, have been networking with peers across the state and around the country in responding to the needs along the gulf, according to Linda Goelzer, director of public relations. Such efforts have taken place while Carter, which services 58 counties in northern and eastern Texas, looks to meet the general need of area hospitals after a slow summer period.

Carter handles standing orders from hospitals and, in anticipation of severe weather, makes sure that hospitals are stocked prior to a storm. Hospitals in large regions like Houston require a quick turnaround and continued supply of blood as they serve a large population, Goelzer said.

Some Houston-area blood centers are not operable at this time and facilities further south, near Corpus Christi, are just opening today, but will need some time to get back up and running. This has prevented the gulf population from contributing to blood needs in their community. Goelzer encouraged those able to donate blood, even if living outside of Texas, to do so as – through disaster response – blood centers across the country will move the blood to the Houston area if they are able to spare it from local need.

Kristin Schlatre, director of Rice University’s Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, said that Houston is still very much in the middle of the wreckage right now as it continues to rain. The city has been in search mode, looking for individuals willing to leave their homes, and making sure that shelters are open and properly staffed and supplied. She noted that the storm came ashore further south, in the Corpus Christi area, and hit surrounding communities before coming up to Houston and meandering north. If just the southern portion of the gulf was hit, need would have been significant, she said, not to mention the impact on Houston and – potentially – Louisiana.

“I think the big thing to remember is that this is not just one community,” she said. “The hurricane came ashore further south and you already have flooding rains and people who have lost everything.”

Schlatre expects the Houston nonprofit community to convene once conditions enable them to do so safely. A number of national entities, notably the American Red Cross and United Way, have teamed with local entities to aid in response and help coordinate FEMA efforts, she said. Additional responders include:

. The United Way of Greater Houston has established a Fund Relief Fund to support both immediate and basic, long-term recovery needs and services such as case management and minor home repair. The local United Way has also operates 2-1-1 Texas and the United Way HELPLINE, enabling the community to seek key information during and after the storm such as shelter and basic-needs assistance;

. Direct Relief has committed $200,000 cash and has made available its inventory of more than $100 million in medical supplies in response to emergency situations in Texas. Direct Relief is coordinating with the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, with members operating 300 sites across the state, as it aids in response;

. Catholic Charities USA has launched a text-to-give option that individuals can use to donate the organization’s disaster-relief efforts. Funds will go toward helping families and individuals secure food, shelter, and other recovery needs;
Matthew 25: Ministries has deployed its specialized disaster relief vehicles to the location. In coordination with Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry unit, the vehicles will be loaded with relief supplies including personal care kits, first-aid kits, toilet paper, diapers, and cleaning products;

. Samaritan’s Purse has deployed two disaster-relief units to Texas on Friday in preparation of the hurricane. The tractor trailers will stand by in north Texas and move into devastated areas as soon as weather permits to provide tools, chainsaws, and other emergency supplies;

. Americares has deployed an emergency-response team to Texas and has been in contact with a network of local health centers, free clinics, and partners in Texas and has already responded to requests for water and medication; and,

. The Salvation Army Texas is providing food and beverages to first responders. In addition, the organization has procured and staged truckloads of food, clean-up kits, and comfort kits; deployed 42 mobile kitchens and two field kitchens; and has representatives serving in emergency shelters throughout the state.

Senior editor Mark Hrywna contributed to this report.

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