KPRC/Red Cross/Telemundo Phone Bank

Op-Ed

Good in a Crisis

12 Sep , 2017  

I’ve always been good in a crisis. I fall apart weeks, months, sometimes years later. I fall apart when the sun is shining and all memory of the disaster has faded to a a transparent overlay with soft edges. The worse the disaster, the longer it takes – the more completely inappropriate the timing. But I am good in a crisis.

If there’s anything positive to be found in a crisis, it’s watching ordinary people reach out to help and support their neighbors. It’s the everyday kindness from unexpected places – strangers asking, “Are you okay?”

And then the edges begin to fray. Irritability sets in, like an itchy wool sweater. Tempers flare. Patience goes “Poof!” Fingers get pointy. But for a moment, there’s hope for humanity. We see that we’re capable of rising to the occasion.

In every neighborhood we saw the same thing over and over — neighbors were helping neighbors. The usual things that divide us — race, income, education, religion — all went out the window. All that mattered was that a fellow human being was in trouble.

—”Dear Houston – A Los Angeles reporter forever changed by your strength,” Elex Michaelson, http://abc13.com/2375882/

Hurricane Harvey

Houston’s a big metropolis with millions of people living and working here. Our refineries supply a lot of oil and gas and more across the nation. We’re not easy to forget. The impact of our disaster reaches almost everyone.In all the noise, please don’t forget smaller places, also hard-hit, like Rockport. Port Aransas. Victoria. Corpus Christi. Keep an eye out for what the remnants of Harvey do to Louisiana and elsewhere in the coming days. Be mindful of those in need far from the Gulf Coast, too: the burning towns of the Pacific northwest; the earthquake shattered regions of Mexico; all those in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

If you’re outside of Texas, the 24/7 news of Hurricane Harvey will slow, as it should, and you’ll move on to other things. Texas disasters won’t be top of mind in Colorado or North Dakota or Oregon. They surely won’t be top of mind in Mexico, Florida, Cuba, the Virgin Islands, or Mumbai. But the need will still be here. If you’re able to help, either with money or by volunteering personally, please do. Volunteers cannot work 24/7; they need food, water, sleep, and a break. They need to take care of their own families. It’s a huge team effort.

Money – I can’t even wrap my head around how much this disaster is going to cost Texas, Louisiana, and the nation. I’ve seen estimates in the $160-180 billion range, just for the damages done by Hurricane Harvey. But right now, there’s still a need for basics: food, water, safe shelter, dry clothing, clean bedding. Don’t send material things unless asked; send money. Because the logistics of getting things around town, right now, is tricky. Getting things where people need them most takes more than just driving them somewhere in the trunk of your car (but be alert to opportunities and requests for that at some point!!)

Right now, the city government and organizations that are helping with large-scale relief operations will know best how to deploy volunteers, how to use the funds to get volume discounts and to physically move supply where it needs to be, and how to help the people who most need it. If you can give money, that’s the best thing. It’s always felt more satisfying, to me, to volunteer my time. Well, I do both, but sending money, alone, seems too easy. Like buying your way out of a little survivor guilt. FORGET THAT NONSENSE! CASH DONATIONS ARE ESSENTIAL and APPRECIATED. Consider making a recurring donation, monthly.

IMPORTANT: Check with your employer to see if they offer matching funds for donations and use them. You can often double your own gift, and that is a huge (sometimes, unfortunately, untouched) resource.

Take care of yourself and your family and your neighbors. To watch all the people rolling in with boats from Louisiana and ambulances and medics from Pennsylvania and volunteers from – EVERYWHERE – is heartwarming. To watch neighbors helping neighbors, all day, every day – never once asking their political affiliation or caring about the color of their skin or their sexual preferences – helps to restore my faith in humanity. Just remember that the adrenaline crash is inevitable.

People are going to get hot and irritable as the sun comes out and exhaustion sets in and the nasty work of clean-up begins in earnest. People will get frustrated waiting in long lines to buy things they once took for granted would be “just a quick trip in to the store.” Insurance claims will be processed, seemingly, at a snail’s pace. A few weasels will move in to stir the pot, because some people are just wired that way. They get off on the misery and anger of others. Scam artists and profiteers are not welcome here, or anywhere.

To Give or Volunteer with the Red Cross in Houston

https://www.redcross.org/donate/hurricane-harvey

http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer#step1

Do this now if you’re interested in volunteering in the coming days and weeks; you must read their guide and pass a background check, so the sooner you register, the better.

Beware of Scam Artists

They come out of the woodwork after every disaster. If you don’t know this already, I want you to understand that Caller ID can be fake – “spoofed.” You want to give? You initiate the call to a known and verified number. You go to the organization’s website and make sure it’s the CORRECT URL and has “https:” at the beginning of the URL, not just “http:” before you enter your credit card or bank info. I cannot emphasize this enough. Avoid saying anything that could be recorded and used to sound like you agreed to something you didn’t. “Thank you for the information. Do you have a URL that I can go to for more information?” is good. “I’m sorry, but I do not donate to any cause over the phone, unless I initiate the call” is also good. “Feel free to send me a request by mail, but I am NOT making a pledge at this time” is good.Make sure your hard earned money really IS going to the organization(s) you intend to support with it. They need it; scam artists don’t deserve it.

Let’s Not Forget This Time

In the coming weeks and months, some people will revert to pointing fingers and blaming each other for everything that goes wrong. Before doing that, ask yourself if you could have done better under the circumstances. If you believe you could have, then ask yourself why you didn’t, and pitch in to help.

Hurricane Harvey is to blame. Hurricane Irma, earthquakes, torrential rains, and fires are to blame. Remember that. Shake your fist at the sky, for all the good it will do. People are awesome, and when they are doing the best they can – and then some – they are amazing. It won’t always be enough. They’re not really Marvel superheroes – they’re human, just like you and me. Inside the most ordinary people are the most extraordinary strengths and spirit.

Let’s all be KIND to each other – every day for the long haul.

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

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4 Responses

  1. Amrita Basu says:

    A very important post.West Bengal is steel reeling under a horrible flood .I appreciate the tips to avoid scam artists .Weird how these people prey on unsuspecting kind hearts

    • It’s only weird if you have a kind heart; they do not. The predators have no empathy, no shred of human decency. They are opportunistic feeders – omnivores – who’d sell their own mothers and laugh while selling their souls, because they’d know they were selling something worthless. Few are born that way, so maybe they’re to be pitied. And the rest of us wouldn’t choose their life, so we should be thankful, even in the worst of times, that we’re not THEM. But we do need to be wary, to be sure that our help goes where we intend it to go, to the people who really need it – not the undeserving who take advantage of a disaster and kind hearts just to line their own pockets and laugh.

  2. Mike Goad says:

    I left Houston late in 1971 due, in part, to a flood that shutdown a facility where I worked. Because of transportation difficulties, finding work was not easy and I ended up joining the Navy — which led to a good career outside the Navy several years later in Arkansas.

    Harvey hit the area where I used to live, Beaumont Place, fairly hard, from what I understand. I’ve seen pictures of my school, CE King, that are astounding.

    The company our son-in-law works for in Wisconsin has an affiliate in Houston and is matching Go-Fund-Me donations to help employees who have suffered loss from the storm and flooding so that is where our donations have gone to this point.

    • Mike, that’s a bittersweet tale – I’m sorry that you had to leave, but glad for where it led you! And yes, corporations with a presence here in Houston have been great about helping their employees and their employees’ community with direct aid and donations to relief organizations.

      A friend, the other day, had donated his birthday to the Houston Food Bank via Facebook. And at first, I thought “What a shame that a percentage of this goes to Facebook and/or the organization aggregating the donations,” although it’s not unreasonable at all. BUT, my friend, on closing the books on the fundraiser, chipped in an additional amount from his own pocket to cover that percentage and sent it directly to the Houston Food Bank. How awesome is that!? It turned out to be a good chunk of change, as he had lots of friends chipping in, but compared to the amount raised, it wasn’t at all unreasonable. The options Go-Fund-Me and Facebook have for giving are nicely convenient. You do still have to be careful that the underlying organizers and organizations are reputable and the money’s going where you want it to, but I’d assume any corporation worth its salt would also check and not offer to match funds sent to anything that wasn’t.

      SO much damage – the needs will still be unmet next year. I worry a lot about donor and volunteer fatigue, once a month or two has passed. And now, with Florida also heavy hit by Irma, it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

      One nice thing I’ve seen some companies start doing is to increase paid time off for employees who volunteer their time, skills, and labor to the relief efforts. That’s a really great idea that I hope catches on.

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