Hurricane Katrina....the name that is on everyone's lips. Although I didn't feel the impact of the storm, (Texas was on the "dry side" of the hurricane) it has touched my life deeply.
Everyone knows that I live in Houston, TX, but most people probably don't know (because I've been purposefully vague about my employment situation) that I work for the Houston Food Bank. The Food Bank was already the largest food bank in the south-east region, serving 18 counties and over 400 member agencies. Food Banks are interesting places because individuals can't actually get food from them. Basically (imagine a flow chart here if you want to follow along), corporations donate large quantities of food, let's say 40,000 pounds of potatoes. People here in the office coordinate who is going to pick up the potatoes and when it is going to come back to the warehouse. The warehouse staff unloads the trucks and the accounting and marketing departments record the donation. A list of everything we have in the warehouse is put on a "shopping list" on the internet that agencies can access and decide what they want to buy. They buy it at a hugely reduced price, which is why food banks say that for every $1 someone gives us, we can purchase $25 of retail food.
So, an agency wants 2,000 pounds of potatoes and they come and pick it up and low-income clients in Houston eat them. I have NOTHING to do with this process. I do work in nutrition education and volunteer coordination. I normally viewed the warehouse as a hot, humid place with a lot of men: beeping their horns on the forklifts that threaten to run me over.
Katrina changed all of that.
I have been called into service as one of the many handling Houston's huge need. It's not just the people in the Astrodome. It's the people in the Reliant stadium, in George R. Brown, in one of the 50 shelters across the city, in local hotels and apartment complexes, and it's the Houston residents that we were already serving. So many individuals and corporations are donating large quantities of food, water, personal items, and clothes that our warehouse can't fit anymore. We turned over 200 volunteers away from the door today because we had reached capacity. We've set up makeshift tents in the parking lot to sort and box food up for delivery. I've done everything from answer phones, to make spreadsheets, to return e-mails, and shrink wrap pallets of food for transportation. But what I've done is so little and the need is so great.
One of the most revealing parts of human nature that I've witnessed in the past week has been watching how people respond to diaster. There are those that step up and say, "What can I do to help?" and those that slink back into the darkness and hope that no one notices that they aren't around.
I'm not trying to sound preachy. My best friend Fatigue is speaking on my behalf right now and I haven't seen my son in what feels like a month. While I miss him at work on this hot Saturday, I know that he is being fed and well taken-care of. On Tuesday we had carloads of people, women carrying infants in their arms, asking us for baby formula and diapers. They were the first evacuees out of Lousinana. We had to turn them away. Their children were hungry and we had nothing to give them.
Check out our website for information about what you can do to help. For me personally, I could use some support and love. I'm tired and frustrated.