Helping Hands and the Challenges of Recovery from Hurricane Harvey

By Sandra Tzul

Houstonians found ways to ensure their neighbors got what they needed by cruising neighborhoods with supplies. Photo courtesy of Debbie Z. Harwell.

As Houstonians rode out Hurricane Harvey the most devastating storm in Houston’s history recovery weighed heavily on their minds. Rains pounded the area in late August 2017, as residents witnessed rising water levels, destruction of homes, and despair in people’s eyes. Through it all, volunteers and ordinary people worked to tame the chaos.

Churches and community organizations played a signifi- cant role in aiding people who had no one to help them with food and clothing or shelter and home repair. Some people lacked flood insurance, and even those who had it faced in- tense pressure navigating their recovery, desperately seeking assistance.

Pastor Rudy Rasmus explains the role of the Church after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston Communities.

Pastor Rudy Rasmus, who leads St. John’s United Methodist Church with his wife Juanita Rasmus, believes in reciprocal accountability: the church and the faith community have a responsibility to give. Since 1992, the congregation has served meals to thousands of people, especially through its nonprofit Bread of Life ministry, which aids people facing disasters or challenges in their daily lives. Pastor Rudy explained that their outreach originated with “a collective of individuals who have come from different walks of life and different zip codes, different backgrounds and experiences [who] all felt that this is the one thing that we should be doing.”

With its downtown location largely unharmed by Harvey, the church became a staging area to receive and distribute goods. Singer Beyoncé, a St. John’s member who grew up in the church, came to help. She requested her sponsors donate items, which included about a thousand mattresses and, Pastor Rudy estimated, “sixty eighteen-wheeler loads of supplies” from one organization over eighteen months. Her friend, entertainer Tyler Perry, wrote a check for $250,000 to help Harvey survivors.

Nearby, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church relief center also helped those in need with donations they received. As evacuees arrived, church members and volunteers connected people with the help they needed. Gloria Rose, a Wheeler member, recognized “that a lot of [them] that came, they had never heard about FEMA. So they wouldn’t have known to go and get a FEMA number, but they were in need.” Rose, who felt disrespected in her recovery after Hurricane Katrina, wanted people impacted by Harvey to know that the volunteers were there to help them, not belittle them. Deacon Endra Cosby, who played a major role in the church’s relief effort, observed, “Everyone just kept sending and bringing and giving [donations].” Senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Marcus Cosby, vowed, “We[‘re] going to keep giving. And the more we give, the more we get. This is what Wheeler Avenue does.”

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Mark Renn, Harvey Volunteer, explains the organizing effort to provide relief to Houston communities.
Elgene Muscat, Harvey Survivor, recounts the preparation for the Hurricane.
Jose Manuel Mendez recounts his experience with rising water and the impact of the flood on him and his family.
Kathy Scott tells her story about the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

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