Having spent the first 18 years of my life in Houston, Texas, the phrase "hurricane warning" never held much terror for me. I remember when Hurricane Allison was expected to tear through my neighborhood. My mom and I stayed up all night elevating our furniture and making sure any valuables and family mementos were safely stored in the attic. We spent 16 hours making a two-hour drive to my Memaw's house (that's Texan for grandma), and we returned on Monday to a home that looked exactly the same as it had when we left.
So, last Thursday, when my mom texted me that Hurricane Harvey was expected to be a category three storm, I wasn't especially alarmed. On Friday morning, when she sent pictures of the duct-taped, sandbagged exterior of our home, I thought, "Wow. Good for her. She's prepared." When I found out most of Harris County (Houston's home county) was being evacuated, I started to wonder if we might actually have anything to worry about, and I felt a wave of gratitude that my mother and sister were taking shelter at Memaw's ranch, out of the path of the storm.
It was only on Sunday morning, when I woke up to photos of my childhood home drowning in waist-high water that I realized Harvey was the once-in-a-lifetime disaster that no one is ever really prepared for—that I never expected to come. But even as the enormity of the catastrophe began to sink in—even as my Facebook feed filled up with photos and videos of the neighborhood I grew up in, the street I went to school on, the park I used to play in swept away like so many grains of sand—I felt lucky.
Nearly a third of Harris County is still submerged. Police have rescued 3,500 people and counting. But more than a foot of rain is expected between now and Friday, and as long as the rain continues, the death toll will rise. At last count, it stands at 16—including Sergeant Steve Perez who drowned while trying to drive to his duty station. The number of people missing is as yet inestimable. Some 30,000 people have been or will be forced from their homes. The George R. Brown Convention Center, with a capacity of 5,000, had taken in 9,200 people as of Tuesday morning.
The danger is not yet over. As storm runoff collects, the Brazos River is swelling, and expected to rise to a record height of 59 feet, and cause record flooding. Large portions of Brazos County are under mandatory evacuation, though some people have been unable to leave due to road closures.
The total cost of this disaster—to the infrastructure of these cities, to priceless memories, and to human life will be incalculable.
Most major freeways are still underwater. My mother and sister don't know when they'll be able to return to their homes. In the meantime, the wood floors in our dining room are buckling and my mother's freezer is leaking melted ice cream. None of us knows how many childhood photo albums, homemade Christmas ornaments, or other irreplaceable mementos will be lost forever. But people I love are safe; their homes, at least, still stand.
For many people, the idea of "home" no longer exists. They have no choice but to start over—to build a new life, from the ground up. None of us can stop the rain from falling, the wind from blowing, or the pain of loss from landing where it will. But we're not powerless to help. There are more ways to lighten the burden faced by survivors of this storm than most people realize. Diapers, bedsheets, toiletries—things we take for granted—are necessities these displaced families are going without.
So, don't let yourself be paralyzed by the enormity of what's happened. And don't let the vast array of options overwhelm you. Give what you can—in time or money, thoughts or prayers—to the cause or causes that speak most to your heart. Your donations will go toward meeting basic human needs—and I'll outline a few ways to contribute below. But no matter what, how, or how much you give, the simple act of giving generates a crucial component to healing: hope.
The organizations on this list have been vetted, so you can be certain that your donations will help the people and organizations actively assisting those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.