All across the Southern United States and in Puerto Rico, communities are dealing with the devastating loss caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Since Hurricane Harvey hit, my team and I at LiveBeyond have been traveling to the Houston area delivering food, supplies and helping with construction. Every time I come back home, I get the same question from others who also want to help: what can do when I am so far away?
Here are three ways you can help hurricane victims, from someone who has seen the need firsthand.
Donate Appliances In Good Working Condition
One of the most difficult things for someone who experienced significant flooding in their home is dealing with the loss of all of their appliances, particularly a refrigerator and freezer.
All of the food that they weren’t able to eat immediately has long since spoiled. And the 3 to 10 feet of water in their house most likely damaged their appliances beyond repair.
It is very difficult for a family to pick up the pieces of their lives, and that issue is compounded when they have to deal with food insecurity.
LiveBeyond has taken 25 refrigerators donated by a church in Nashville to hard-hit families in Texas connected with two different churches there. These appliances will help sustain these families until they get back on their feet.
If you are looking to upgrade your refrigerator, oven or microwave that is still in good working condition, consider making an appliance in-kind donation. Or donate to an organization or church that is purchasing these items for hurricane victims.
It’s easy for those of us who were not affected by the hurricane to return to our normal lives a few weeks after a natural disaster. After all, our daily grind continues and we still have deadlines to meet for work. And we sent that check to our church to take care of the issue, right?
There are areas in both Texas and Florida that are still flooded. And those houses will need to be gutted.
It is estimated that Hurricane Harvey damaged approximately 203,000 houses; 12,700 of which were completely destroyed. Those statistics are still being calculated for Hurricane Irma, but 25 percent of homes in the Florida Keys alone were completely destroyed.
Two weeks ago, it took a team of about 10 volunteers more than 20 hours to gut a house in the Houston area. And that was just one house. That needs to happen another 202,999 times! And that doesn’t include the thousands of businesses who also received significant damage.
So many people rushed to the Texas coast to help immediately following the hurricane, but some houses were not even reachable at that time. LiveBeyond is continuing to take teams every weekend to gut houses and will do so for months to come.
And that’s just the first step.
After houses are gutted, the flooring, sheetrock, molding, cabinets and shelving need to be replaced. Then they need to refurnish each room with whatever furniture they can scrounge up.
How long would it take a family to do that with no outside help?
The best part about volunteering is that it doesn’t require much prior knowledge. Before a few weeks ago, I had no experience in construction at all. I now consider myself a sheetrock demolition expert.
As long as you have one person who knows what to do within your group, you can get a lot done in just one weekend. But you have to be there.
Sending money from the comfort of your own home can only accomplish so much. They need man-power more than anything else.
That’s why LiveBeyond is coordinating groups of people who are ready to volunteer with churches in the Houston area that can host volunteers and identify families in great need of some help.
Don’t Forget Them
This is not a struggle that will end any time soon. People will still be picking up the pieces years from now.
Even with financial aid from FEMA and flood insurance, finances could still be tight for a long time.
Maybe you pick up the tab next time you catch lunch with your friends in Florida. Or you spend a little extra on your family in Houston this year for Christmas to help them replace their furniture.
Remember that they lost not just assets but wedding dresses, family photos, heirlooms, hand-painted pictures from their kids. That house party they throw a few years from now might not mean much to you, but it could be the first time they feel able to welcome people they love back into their homes.
Victims of hurricanes need our support, our prayers, our friendship, and our love. Please don’t forget their struggle.
Devin Vanderpool is the Director of Communications for LiveBeyond. To find our how you can partner with LiveBeyond or donate to their relief efforts visit http://livebeyond.org/waystohelp/.