Take 2 ... Responding to Houston’s SOS
The rainfall in Texas may have been matched only by tears. From 1,700 miles away, it’s like witnessing innocents being cruelly punished in the churn of some surreal snow globe. Lives of thousands of Americans have been turned upside-down overnight.
It’s as impossible to define the breadth of Hurricane Harvey from the outside as it is from within Houston. This is the stuff of Biblical, or Hollywood, proportions.
A year’s worth of rain has fallen in a matter of days. A Texas meteorologist said it is enough to run Niagara Falls for more than a fortnight.
We have already witnessed strangers responding with mercy to a storm that shows none; helping others for whom shelter is suddenly nothing more than a blanket.
Tides of emotions, though, must be kept in check with measures of poise. Responding to crisis is something Americans do well, but empathy can result in misguided decisions.
So, as children return to school, here’s some homework before you reach out to help:
Write a check. Victims of this storm need shelter, food, clothing and medicine, but the relief agencies on the scene mostly need cash to deliver the goods. Stamford-based Americares has been on the ground since last Friday, just before hurricanes made landfall. They have provided medicines for displaced residents with diabetes, asthma and hypertension, and wheelchairs, walkers and bottled water. Feeling the urge to help, many people want to donate needed goods. It doesn’t work that way.
When donating money, research the recipient. The Red Cross has faced criticism over its response to natural disasters, but its staff continues to do admirable work on the front lines. (Hearst, which owns this newspaper, has donated $1 million to the Greater Houston Red Cross). The nonprofit Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) confirms registered charities and rates them on how well donations are distributed. The Red Cross currently has a grade of 83 percent, while Americares (americares.org/ harvey) is at 97 percent and Fairfield-based Save the Children (savethechildren.org) has an 88 percent. Do not respond to vague links or phone calls, as even the worst tragedies draw out heartless scam artists.
Buy “local.” Consider giving to groups within Houston, and in communities providing shelter. An ancillary benefit is that you are boosting economies crippled by the storm.
Help doesn’t end today. Communities ripped apart by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago are still in recovery. If you can’t help now, look for ways to pitch in before the end of the year, or next year, or beyond. When these waters recede, they will reveal future health and infrastructure issues.
Houston will be healing for years to come. At least for a few days, politics dropped beneath the tideline as Americans show they really do care about one another. Politics will surely resurface, as battles take shape over relief for the instantly homeless who lacked flood insurance.
That can wait. Today is a fine day to help. Now do your homework and pitch in.
If you can’t help now, look for ways to pitch in before the end of the year, or next year, or beyond. When these waters recede, they will reveal future health and infrastructure issues.