I’m no hero. I’m nothing special. I’m a human.

Harvey. A name I’ll never forget. Not because I have a distant relative named Harvey, but because of the hurricane that ravaged the Gulf Coast. It was Thursday, August 24th when I was sitting at my desk and I got a big red message flashing across one of my monitors. It informed me that the university would close early on Friday so families could go home and prepare for the impending storm. The city of Houston along with many others like Corpus Christi and Rockport had already braced themselves for Harvey. Days leading up to the storm, store shelves were empty. Fueling stations were dry. And ATMs were out of cash. I knew it was going to be bad. But not this bad.

IMG: Port Arthur, Texas. Public Domain

Harvey hits.

MANY cities were devastated. I had only lived at my place for seven months so I had no idea how it handled water or power during a storm. Admittedly, I grew nervous during the multiple days of continuous rain. I mean, there was literally a day where it rained from when I woke up to when I went to sleep. My sedan was parked in the basement of my building (because there was absolutely nowhere else to park it) and I just knew I would walk down to it completely submerged by Harvey’s wrath.
Throughout the entire storm, not once did I lose power. I also experienced no flooding and I live just blocks from one of Houston’s most notorious areas for flooding. After watching hours and hours of Harvey coverage, I succumbed to depression and survivor’s guilt. There I was sitting in my dry air conditioned home watching people be rescued by boat or literally being flushed away from their homes by the rushing water. The sound of sirens wailing outside, choppers passing above, and my phones delivering their flash flood and tornado warning notices all at once is a combination that will haunt me forever. While all of my possessions were okay, so many that I knew (and did not know) had their lives destroyed in just a number of hours. I even had to take a break from social media. Fingers were being pointed. The conspiracy theorists were out. Political agendas were being pushed. I had enough and knew I could not waste my good energy on any of these things.

IMG: Supplies. Chabad Lubavitch. Flickr. CCBY 2.0

During this same time, shelters were opening their doors and mega stores like Gallery Furniture opened their doors to Harvey victims. Our Texas sized convention center along with stadiums were also utilized to house people. When I heard the number of people displaced and saw the images of them being dropped at shelters in droves, my heart broke. It was in that very moment that I knew I needed to do something – absolutely anything to help my city.

I have always been the type to take action whether it be alone or with a team. The city had a tremendous amount of people turn out to volunteer and at many points turned volunteers away. I was never able to volunteer at the convention center but I had to do something. Immediately. Right now. Stores slowly opened in the shuttered city. I waited in lines to get into Target and Wal Mart to buy anything I could find that would be helpful for those displaced. As I walked the aisles collecting diapers, wipes, meals, etc., it was then that I noticed many other people were doing the same thing. Buying supplies to donate to the shelters that took people in. A rush of emotion came over me and I knew I needed to check out and get out. I most certainly could have donated to some of the nationally recognized organizations that step in to assist in disasters. But it was important to me to see items go STRAIGHT to places that need them or into the hands of those who will use them.

That day, I cried like a baby watching donations and kind words roll in.

I went home with my supplies and I wanted to share my experience with my friends on Facebook for multiple reasons. Chief amongst them was to share the beautiful generosity that Houstonians and other visitors to the city showed. I had never seen anything like it and I was so proud. This was my first time ever using Facebook Live and honestly, I always thought it was a bit lame and self-serving. Little did I know this would start a wildfire. So many people reached out to me to donate to my efforts to go back out and gather supplies to disburse. I mean some of these people I have never even met. I am not in touch with emotions. I adopted Kelly Cutron’s famous phrase a long time ago “If you have to cry go outside.” I live my life by it. That day, I cried like a baby watching donations and kind words roll in. I told the world that I was emotionally raw and I was. Watching so many people lose it all and still fight to hold a smile changes you. It touches you in places you never knew existed. I’ll also never forget the expressions of the hopelessness on some faces. The tear stained cheeks. The red eyes. These are all etched in my memory.
I volunteered in many different capacities over the days following Harvey. I worked in a warehouse at the Food Bank which was such a great experience. Literally, hundreds of people showed up to volunteer. I also volunteered at a donation center to help sort and fold I can’t tell you how many pieces of clothing. I wanted to get my hands on anything I could to help. After the needs of shelters changed and families returned home, I went by homes to take supplies and lend a hand. The efforts from everyone during this time have been magnificent. I would not have been able to do all of the things I have done without my incredibly generous and supportive network. I did not do any of this for me. I’m no hero. I’m nothing special. I’m a human. I did what I would have wanted anyone with a heart to do for me. While many others will move on in a few days, I’ll still be here collecting, distributing, and helping to make lives whole again. Harvey was only here a few days but I will be here to stay.

About the Author

Chris West Jr. is a local Houston entrepreneur and all around great guy. For more information on how you can help victims of Harvey, follow his growing list of local shelters and organizations working in Texas by following him on FB.

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