Storm Journal: Experience at GRB Shelter

Hurricane Harvey is raging hard and we’re all looking for ways to help. After hearing calls for help on TV a few nights ago (Monday 8/28), I went out with a group of seminarians to volunteer at the Red Cross shelter downtown (George R. Brown Convention Center). It took us 1.5 hours of attempting to drive the 10 miles in the middle of pouting rain, but we managed eventually.

Seminarian, Harvey, Relief

Calm before the storm


What did we find:

1. There were an incredibly large amount of people, I’ve heard estimates between 5k-9k, but it was well staffed and organized. No chaos, everyone is calm (relatively given the circumstances). Props to HPD and Red Cross staff for creating a safe environment.

Main Room – People entered in here, picked up clothes and food, then claimed a space.

2. There are an incredible amount of small tasks that need to happen. I served from 10pm-6am. In that time I vacuumed carpet, picked up and took out trash, served food, sorted clothes, made beds for refugees, visited with medical patients, distributed blankets, and simply talked to people as they processed the experience.

3. On top of the stress of not being in your house, it’s doubly difficult to sleep in a room with half-dim lights, people talking, and thousands of strangers all around you. More – we ran out of cots and blankets so lots of people were sleeping on a sheet of cardboard. Watching everyone attempt to sleep away the terror of their past and upcoming days was a sight of marvel. After the initial shock passes, life is going to be terribly difficult when these people are stuck in the shelter for week(s) without anywhere else to go.

One of the 5 “sleeping” halls. If you got there early enough you landed a cot and a blanket.

4. There are people there from all backgrounds and situations.
The stories are endless. Majority boat evacuations. Very few came in cars. Families with boxes of supplies. Families with only a backpack. Poor families. Well-off families. Tons of babies and infants. At one point I saw a girl on a cot with a macbook. This thing cuts across all boundaries.

5. There was an groups of nurses and doctors serving an endless stream of patients with various needs. I spent a lot of time talking with med patients. Those medical personnel are incredible.

A tiny portion of the total food we had ready to give out. MREs for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

A few stories:

  • One couple got on a boat intending to head to the hospital for dialysis. The boat misunderstood and took them to a central location and eventually to the downtown shelter. Their house is fine but they have no way to get back. He just needed a hospital. Still, the doctors at GRB provided the service.
  • One woman was displaced with her daughter and granddaughter. She’s diabetic and hadn’t received insulin in 3 days. The doctors went through her medicine, replaced her stock, and patiently gave ongoing advice.
  • One woman was volunteering because 10 years ago she had been displaced herself in Ike. She was giving in the same way she had received at that time.
  • One 80 year old man in a KofC shirt was pushing himself across the floor in a wheelchair. He couldn’t find his cot, so I pushed him around and we searched the hall. His house was totally underwater, he had to be saved by boat with his wife, and his kids don’t know where he is.We ended up talking about his Knights initiation, “Some things you never forget. I can close my eyes and remember the room… I don’t think I’ll ever forget this either.”
  • One homeless guy was great spirits, “I’m used to this. I sleep outside every night. They’re treating us super well in here.”
  • One guy was visiting on work from London when his temporary apartment flooded. He had nowhere else to go

Overwhelming and humbling. Devastation and hope. Desperation, yet somehow moments of hushed calm and peace.

Prepping for breakfast at 5am. Notice the chairs. Most people in the last halls came late and didn’t get cots. So we made beds out of chairs and cardboard.


The psalm from yesterday’s morning prayer could not be more appropriate. Psalm 29 rings out:
“The God of Glory thunders.
In his temple they all cry out: “Glory!”
The Lord sat enthroned over the flood
The Lord sits as king forever.”

Donations and Volunteers:

Honestly, direct money is the best bet. Pick you’re favorite group. It feels impersonal, but its It’s easier for them to buy the goods they need in the moment rather than dedicate space and manpower to sort through donations. Please no more clothes, there’s an overabundance and it’s only taking up space and man hours to sort.
I’m personally recommending Adore Ministries or Catholic Charities of Central Texas.

At the time, Red Cross was taking anyone they could find. Now they’re is turning away unregistered volunteers downtown, but specifically looking for night shifts and people with medical or counseling experience – the grief ministry is very real. I’d recommend trying another shelter in the area, but some of those are hitting volunteer capacity as well. If you can, directly helping a neighbor or friend is always the most effective work. But don’t feel the need to do something immediately. This is going to be a long haul recovery effort.

GRB Clothes Donation Shelter

Clothes mountain


My recommendation: Take whatever you want to give away today and store it in a closet – food, paper towels, cheerios, shampoo, towels, etc. In 3 weeks, drive down the street and give it to a random person working on their house. I guarantee they will appreciate it and need it just as much as people do today. Sustained generosity is key.