~Alexandra Ferber, The Salvation Army of Eastern PA & DE’s Public Relations Manager, is in Houston, Texas assisting a national communications team with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. She is on the front lines, telling the stories of Houstonians impacted by Harvey and how The Salvation Army is helping them put their lives back together.
The Incident Command center is a bee hive of activity with a team of Salvation Army staff and officers who are planning and executing disaster relief and recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
I am a member of the public information team, comprised of Salvation Army communications professionals from across the country. Since I arrived a week ago, the days have been long and sometimes hectic, as we all strive to meet the needs of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey and in the case of my team, make sure the correct information is funneled out through social media and news media. It is essential that we continue to communicate to Houstonians about the work we are doing and that they understand how they can get help.
Emotional and spiritual care (ESC) advisors and mobile feeding units (also known as canteens) are dispatched in to the field daily. ESC teams distribute cleaning kits and food boxes to families in need, and offer prayer, counseling and hope. Volunteers operate the canteens truck which provide thousands of meals every day. They are assigned to low income areas and rural communities where people have lost everything. The poverty is immense and it is clear that it will be a very long time for these families to get back on their feet.
Most of the homes are uninhabitable. Yet, for many people who were impoverished before the storm, they are living in these homes anyway or they are staying in tents on their property. They have no running water or electricity. My colleagues meet people everyday who are sleeping on the floor with moldy blankets or no bedding at all. Those homes that can possibly be saved, have been stripped down to the bones for rebuilding. Homeowners are praying that FEMA assistance can help them with this task. There are cars that flooded and are ruined. Some people have no transportation as a result and little means to replace the vehicle. When you drive through neighborhoods, the streets are lined with piles of junk – floor boards, dry wall, appliances, furniture, clothing, and memories. Entire lives reduced to rubble. You can’t ignore the devastation.
Our ESC teams talk of the special people they meet every day – just the other afternoon, three Salvation Army officers were out to lunch when a little boy approached them and asked for an autograph from the “people who were rescuing his city.” It was everything that the members of the group could do not to breakdown in tears.
The people we serve are so grateful for The Salvation Army’s service here in Houston. They are quick to give you a hug and express their deep gratitude. Houstonians have stopped us on the street to shake our hands and thank us for being here to help their neighbors. It is even more impactful when they hear that I am from Philadelphia and my colleagues are from Washington D.C., Jackson, Mississippi, Florida, Massachusetts, Canada and beyond. I’ve also been stopped on the street by people asking how they can make a donation and volunteer. Although these Texas communities are reeling from this destructive event, residents are resilient, compassionate and eager to help one another.
As for what’s ahead with Hurricane Harvey relief…The Salvation Army is shifting operations from direct service to short-term and long-term recovery to address these needs. Best Buy has donated 100 iPads to us this week. Our team has also developed an electronic community assessment tool that workers will utilize on these iPads when they go into the field and interview clients to determine the specific needs for long term care.
All of this is happening as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida. The team in Houston send our thoughts and prayers to everyone in the Sunshine State.