The waters from Hurricane Harvey have receded, and the storm has begun to fade from headlines, but recovery remains an ongoing process for many Houston-area residents. As of Wednesday night, about 2,200 people displaced by the storm remained in a temporary shelter at Houston’s NRG Center, a 700,000-square-foot convention hall located within walking distance of NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans. For now, the shelter is open 24 hours, seven days a week, but it will be closing on Saturday, September 23.
BakerRipley, a charitable organization that has served Houston for more than 100 years, is overseeing the relief efforts at NRG Center and taking the lead in linking those affected by the storm to the resources they will need to restart their lives.
All told, more than 8,000 people have come through the convention hall seeking somewhere to stay, sometimes just for a day or two, sometimes longer, said Frida Villalobos, director of communications at BakerRipley.
The size of the shelter and scope of BakerRipley’s efforts requires considerable volunteer help, more than 200 people at a time in some cases. Shifts usually last five hours, and overnights must be staffed, too.
Plexus Vice Presidents Brenda Hobson and Laura Flynn were among the volunteers at NRG Center late last week. There was much work to be done, and both stayed later than they intended.
In addition to people, the shelter houses 250 displaced animals, including no shortage of dogs who need to be walked. For eight hours last Friday, Flynn tended to the shelter’s animals.
“When those animals peer into your eyes, scared and helpless, you know you are doing a good thing,” Flynn said.
Hobson worked an overnight shift helping to supervise a portion of the shelter housing single women and children. She was struck by the hopefulness of the people she met, as well as the sense of community forged under tough circumstances.
“These ladies were like family,” Hobson said. “They didn’t know each other before. They looked out for one another. They cared for one another.”
In addition to providing living essentials, BakerRipley works to create a culture of dignity, helpfulness, and respect. The organization refuses to call those displaced by the storm “evacuees” or “victims,” but “guests.” Volunteers and staff are trained to do what it takes to answer guest questions and to not hesitate to ask another team member for assistance with questions.
“For a guest, that makes a difference, because it makes them feel like a person,” Villalobos said.
A BakerRipley case manager works with each person to ensure needs are met. Requests can be as simple as cleaning supplies for when it’s time to return to a flooded, moldy home, or help securing daycare for children.
The need for such services won't stop after the shelter stops on September 23. And that takes money. Donations can be made through BakerRipley's website at any time, and the money can be earmarked for any one of six programs, including Hurricane Harvey relief.
In the nearer term, BakerRipley still needs volunteers to help run the NRG Center through September 23. Those interested can sign up on the organization's website.
Rest assured, BakerRipley appreciates any and all help it receives.
"There is no such thing as a small effort," Villalobos said.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Here are ways you can help our friends at BakerRipley in their important work after Hurricane Harvey:
→ Monetary donations. The process of getting those displaced settled into new homes, jobs and lives will be ongoing long after the shelter closes. To donate, click here.
→ Donations of time. BakerRipley seeks volunteers all year; to sign up, please visit their website. And over the next week, they will continue to need help at NRG Center.