Giving Relief

Flooded streets in Houston
Photo by, SC National Guard – https://www.flickr.com/photos/scguard/36789669052
Like many, I find myself looking at the devastation along the Texas Coast in shock. Hurricane Harvey’s slow movement, strong winds, and immense rain fall have displaced millions and cost too many lives 1. The impulse of people watching this disaster from a distance is to do something — to gather clothes and food to ship, or even to show up and assist in whatever recovery efforts are going on.

The impulse is good, the timing is not. In an area with a paralyzed infrastructure massive shipments of clothes, and random donations of food, can create a logistical nightmare which causes more short-term grief than it alleviates. Unscheduled volunteers who have no local contacts, or means to house and feed themselves, can divert aid from those who have been displaced. And so the best thing to do right now might be the most counter-intuitive for a culture bent toward instant-gratification. We have to wait.

Right now there are thousands of rescue and aid workers on the ground providing transportation, housing, and food to people who need it. Boats have come from out of state, first responders are working non-stop, and medical professionals are putting in heroic efforts to stabilize a dangerous and shifting situation. Others are coming into the area, following long-standing agreements of mutual aid, giving relief to those who have been present on the ground since the very beginning. We mustn’t make their job more difficult than it already is.

There will come a time when the stabilization has been taken care of and volunteers will be needed as the situation moves toward rebuilding. That time will be here soon enough, but it’s not here yet. Wait. And, perhaps even more difficult than waiting, don’t forget. Soon the news will shift to some other story, and take our cultural attention along with it. Don’t permit this to happen, remember those who are suffering, even when the cameras have packed up and moved on.

But waiting doesn’t mean “do nothing.” While we wait to give “real help,” we can donate to those groups already on the ground. These groups have different foci, which compliment each other and create a resonance which moves the relief efforts forward. Houston Mennonite Church, for example, has a deep concern for the most vulnerable populations in Houston — particularly undocumented immigrants who are unlikely to file disaster claims or report to shelters for immediate relief. My own denomination, ABCUSA, is encouraging members to give to our One Great Hour of Sharing and put “OGHS-Hurricane Harvey” in the comments section to designate funds to the relief efforts. I am happy my own congregation, Central Baptist, is beginning our response to this disaster by designating all of September’s mission offering to give to Hurricane Harvey Relief efforts through One Great Hour of Sharing. As the second wave begins, we’ll be exploring what our options are to participate “hands on” though our family’s Home Missions Societies.

So, unless you are already on the ground, or part of a first response team called to the area, our best response to Harvey is:

  • Don’t go for a quick ‘big splash,’ wait.
  • Donate funds to reputable agencies already.
  • Remember what’s going on.” That way, when the second-wave of rebuilding begins, we can both ready and helpful.

My prayers and heart are in Texas.


  1. “Too many,” being one
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