“The Red Cross emailed me this morning. They want me to come to Houston.”
That was the conversation Rocky, my wife, and I had this morning.
Rocky is, among other things, certified with the Red Cross in emergency sheltering.
She’s worked with them and worked on various certifications with them for years.
When you sign up for the Red Cross this is what you think it’s going to be. Traveling the world helping in the biggest disasters of your time.
What it really is is going out in the middle of the night to some country town an hour away in the middle of winter to help with a house fire.
The Red Cross is huge in helping with house and apartment fires. They often use a portion of the money they get from big disasters like today’s Houston flooding to help with these house fires. They give out gift cards for hotels, supplies and furniture.
It’s disasters like the one we’re experiencing right now in Houston that bring out the best in people.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
That is powerful advice from Mr. Rogers.
In my own work I see the greatness in people every single day. There are so many people that are good, caring and generous. It’s actually humbling to see.
But sometimes the help can become somewhat of a difficulty.
My friend Marcia Marshall shared a story: When disaster relief brings anything but relief – CBS News
The story reports that right after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre they started getting teddy bears.
And how many teddy bear came to Newtown? “I think it was about 67,000,” Kelsey said. “Wasn’t limited to teddy bears. There was also thousands of boxes of school supplies, and thousands of boxes of toys, bicycles, sleds, clothes.”
“Generally after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and in fact may actually be harmful,” said Juanita Rilling, director of the Center for International Disaster Information in Washington, D.C. “And they have no idea that they’re doing it.”
Now… let me be clear. This is in no way meant to make a person feel bad or get discouraged in giving. The giving nature of Americans is one of our absolute greatest qualities.
I just wanted to put this article together to offer some giving tips.
The first thing to do is to do a little research. I just did a search for “What donations does Houston need?”
Here are two articles I found:
SOUTH TEXAS BLOOD & TISSUE DONATION: You can donate here. Local residents can also donate blood in person.
TEXAS DIAPER BANK: You can donate here.
HOUSTON SPCA: You can donate here. (SPCA is an animal shelter and is also taking in stray or displaced pets.)
CENTRAL TEXAS FOOD BANK: You can donate here.
SAN ANTONIO FOOD BANK: You can donate here. Many displaced Houston residents will be relocated to San Antonio.
COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS: An umbrella organization coordinating shelters and organizations across Houston. You can donate here.
AirBNB: The hospitality company is working to coordinate people in need of a place to stay with people willing to offer a free room. More information here.
If you have food and clothes and money these places will likely take your stuff.
But what if you want to do more?
Many people want to get involved personally. They want to go directly to the source.
This is where it gets tricky.
Rocky tells me stories of people that will show up at the Red Cross during an emergency and want to help. That is not the time to show up to the Red Cross.
If this emergency inspires you to help with the Red Cross I strongly encourage you to talk with the Red Cross (in a week or two, after this tragedy) and start the process of becoming a volunteer. Click here to go to their page on becoming a volunteer for the Red Cross.
Emmett, who oversees government operations in Harris County, where Houston is located, says, “We desperately need boats and high water vehicles … We can’t wait for assets to come from outside.”
If you have a small boat you might be able to help.
During the BP oil spill nightmare I went to Louisiana to cover that tragedy as a photographer.
There were many people that came as free agents to help.
There was a guy that came down to try to rescue sea turtles.
There was a group that brought pet food down to the area.
Here is a photo I took of one of the pet food people at the Gulf Oil Spill:
But the key was that none of these people were improvising. They knew what they were doing. They had some sort of infrastructure in place for when a disaster strikes. Or at least they had stuff on hand before they showed up.
Here’s the thing: You can always rely on the fact that another disaster will be right around the corner.
If the Houston flooding inspires you to physically help then use this as an inspiration to be ready to help the next time around.
Otherwise, try to be sensitive to what the needs are at this point.
Don’t send winter coats to a tropical island in the summer. Don’t send perishable food to a place without electricity. Don’t send toys to pretty much any disaster area.
And when in doubt, send money. I know it’s not sexy. And I know you are concerned that it might just go to a bloated infrastructure.
But the fact is, we need the Red Cross. It’s not like someone else is waiting in the wings to take over all the work the Red Cross does.