A week ago, while boarding a plane to lead a retreat in Maryland, I naively commented that I was sad to be leaving Houston before my first hurricane. After all, one is not “Real Houston” until you have been there and done that.
That was ignorance speaking.
A week later Harvey has moved on. Behind is the devastation of 50” of rain pummeling one place for four days. Friends and colleagues left their homes with nothing but the drenched clothes on their backs. Friends floated their families out of their neighborhood on air mattresses and pool toys. A few, people with lives and loved ones and stories, didn’t make it out at all.
My wife and teams of our young adults have spent this week gutting homes that were knee deep in flood waters and backed up sewage in a race against the mold that will turn those homes toxic. And all the while, I remain in Baltimore due to airport closures and having booked with an airline that has a single daily flight to Houston. So, like most of you, I have had to love from a distance.
From a distance I worry about those who will spend months in shelters and hotels and friend’s spare bedrooms. I worry about those unable to work and pay bills and buy groceries and gasoline to get back to work when (or if ) their jobs reopen. For thousands, Harvey’s aftermath will mean a second move: the move into poverty.
Knowing that I am on staff at a Houston church that sends more than 1/3 of every dollar directly out our door to others, and that I have some experience serving “the least of these,” many have asked, “What can I do?”* Here is how you can provide helpful help right now:
- Pray. Really. (James 5:16) “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” (Ps. 29:10) The storm is never the last word!
- Stop. Don’t load up a flatbed with blankets and bring 100 of your closest friends next week. That day will come. Right now, shelters, hotels and churches are filled. The last thing Harvey hit areas need right now is more bodies. Don’t send the flatbed with the blankets either. The list of what shelters needs changes daily. If you send it, chances are good your generosity will end up not being used.
- Give money. Money is flexible. Money can be used to buy kids groceries and clothes. We spent $1200 today on supplies like masks and gloves to help teams tear out carpet, drywall and cabinets. Thousands of workers will need Hep C and tetanus shots. People (church parishioners and church’s local mission partners with folk in dire financial positions) will need help because people on the bubble will not be able to work hourly jobs, but their expenses won’t stop.
How to give cash? Find a charity you trust. Give some to small local charities…local charities do good work with real people. Give some to church-based national charities. National charities have broad experience. Lots of large secular charities pay huge salaries and have large advertising budgets that church-based charities usually do not have. (For example Episcopal Relief and Development sends 84% directly to programs rather than admin or fundraising).
Here is one place I trust: http://www.sjd.org/harvey/
Thank you for loving from a distance. The Gulf Coast needs you!
*If you count the staff necessary to accomplish that, it is more like 50% of the budget of the Church of St. John the Divine goes outside our doors.