Lessons From a Flood: How to Help with Disaster Relief

Lessons From a Flood: How to Help with Disaster Relief

Traci Linker

On May 25, 2015, Wimberley, Texas suffered loss of life, property, and sense of peace when a devastating wall of water came crashing down our beloved Blanco River.

Living high on a hill away from the river, the flooding didn’t directly affect me that night. The next morning, though, my 17-year-old daughter and I went to the shelter that school administrators had opened over night to seek out a family friend that had been vacationing in town that weekend. When he wasn’t there, I asked the very open-ended question, “Is there anything I can do?”

My daughter and I were immediately sent to prepare the gym to be a donation drop-off and relief supply center. We had no plan and certainly no prior experience in disaster recovery – but what we did have was a mission to serve our neighbors and friends.

For the next week, HireBetter let me serve my community full time. Over the next several months, I continued serving by recruiting for HireBetter in the morning and late at night, while volunteering during the day as the coordinator for the Relief Center.

While the devastation along the Texas Gulf Coast and in the Houston metro area is exponentially greater than the flooding event in Wimberley, we learned a lot of lessons about the best ways to assist with flooding and disaster relief efforts.

What Not to Give

There are many, many ways to help in the rebuilding efforts for the 50 counties affected by Hurricane Harvey, but please know that the easy ones like donating canned goods and used clothing are the least effective. They can create a logistical nightmare often referred to as the “disaster after the disaster” (a searchable Google term if you want to read more about this).

We experienced this in Wimberley. In fact, I had to schedule a clothing recycler to pick up truckloads of well-intended, but unusable clothing and bedding donations. The countless man-hours it took to un-bag, sort, re-bag and transport the items were wasted.

Food is certainly needed and keeping our food banks stocked is vitally important, but in the days after a disaster there is often no electricity or even working stoves to cook on so cans of green beans and soup really aren’t that helpful. If you feel that you must give to a food drive, please take this advice from someone who has provided food for the survivors.

Donate ready-to-eat items like:

  • jerky
  • individual portions of tuna (with the spoon, mayo and pickle relish included)
  • peanut butter crackers
  • nutritional bars
  • individually packaged chips and crackers.

The first responders and recovery workers working out in our Texas heat need more than water. Gatorade, individual powder drink mixes, or the squirt bottles of flavored drink additives are a welcome commodity!

What to Give – Monetary Donations

There are many wonderful, national relief organizations, as well as many celebrities raising money to support the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. However, many of these organizations also have other priorities, so once the immediate needs are filled, they turn to other emergencies elsewhere.

A great option has just been created in order to keep recovery funds in Texas. A newly-formed partnership between the Dell Foundation and Texas Governor Greg Abbot will fund immediate relief and long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts across the Texas Coast following Hurricane Harvey. This fund will be managed by veteran Texas disaster recovery experts and seeks to distribute the funds equitably across the entire region. Donors can text RebuildTX to 91999 or go to rebuildtx.org.

I also recommend two excellent but smaller relief and recovery groups that don’t have the marketing budget to advertise a “text to donate” campaign but are personally inspiring and absolutely worthy of your donations.

Team Rubicon is a group of volunteer, former US military veterans who provide search and rescue, debris management, and more. Team Rubicon’s mission is “to provide our veterans with three things they lose after leaving the military: a purpose, gained through disaster relief; community, built by serving with others; and self-worth, from recognizing the impact one individual can make. Coupled with leadership development and other opportunities, Team Rubicon looks to help veterans transition from military to civilian life.”

In my opinion, you can’t get much better than helping veterans help civilians in need. These men and women came in to Wimberley with military precision and turned chaos into order. They earned the respect of survivors and other volunteers for their continued dedication and service to our country.

Another organization that “feeds the body and soul,” is Mercy Chefs. Volunteer chefs from around the country take time away from their own restaurants, and with the help of local volunteers, serve thousands of hot, restaurant-quality meals daily to first responders, recovery workers, and survivors. They are currently serving 12,000 meals a day in the Rockport and Friendswood areas. When people sit, and share a hot meal together, healing begins by establishing community, normalcy, and providing nutrition.

With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the southeast coast, both Team Rubicon and Mercy Chefs are preparing to head to Florida to provide their valuable services to those in need in the storm-affected areas.

What to Give – Your Time and Yourself

Giving monetarily is easy and can be done from the comfort of your couch. But the real gift and the one that is often in shortest supply is the gift of service. I never would have thought that I had something to offer in a state of emergency. But I did, and I learned that I am stronger (and even more organized) under pressure than I ever knew. From Port Aransas, across I-10 through Houston all the way to Orange, and up to La Grange, able-bodied volunteers will be needed in the recovery efforts for years.

Yes, there is a great need for chain-saw-wielding volunteers, and people with construction demolition and building experience, but even if you don’t have those skills, there is work for you if you are willing to sweat. Can you drag a tree limb to a burn pile? Can you sort through personal items trying to save memories? Could you learn to use a crow bar to remove sheet rock? How about serving a hot meal and offering kind words?

The State of Texas Emergency Response team is asking volunteers to not self-deploy, as unexpectedly showing up to any of the communities that have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey can create an additional burden. Soon, just like Wimberley did, there will be a Volunteer Resource Center (VRC) established in each affected area that will direct appropriate response teams. This coordination turns chaos into a manageable effort and serves two main purposes. The first reason is that all volunteers MUST register and log hours for FEMA reimbursement. The second reason is for volunteer safety, as well as the safety and security of disaster survivors. Volunteers should only go into affected areas with a specific volunteer assignment, proper safety gear, and valid identification.

At your company, consider forming relief teams and giving a Friday or Monday off to serve in the disaster field. There’s no need for happy hours, team-building at Top Golf or on a ropes course when you are working side by side in service to others. Your employees will come back tired, but with a renewed heart and passion, and no dollar amount can be assigned to that. Personally, HireBetter’s support of my efforts in aiding my community created an allegiance that I won’t forget.

As the hurricane season continues, and rebuilding begins, our thoughts are with all those affected by these disasters. HireBetter will continue to support the relief efforts, both financially and with the gift of time.

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