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September 4, 2005

A massive relief effort that you do not see

astrodome inside.jpgAs Americans are still attempting to absorb the shock of the largest exodus of citizens during our nation's modern history, the Chronicle's Steve Campbell's great photo of the inside of Houston's Astrodome provides the backdrop to a huge part of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort that you do not see on television -- the massive effort by a network of Houston-area churches and charities to provide relief resources to the tens of thousands of Gulf Coast evacuees who are residing in hotels and homes throughout Houston and Texas.

Although the evacuees from New Orleans are understandably getting most of the attention from the mainstream media, hotels and shelters from the Texas-Louisiana border to throughout the Houston-Dallas-San Antonio triangle are filled with tens of thousands of other Gulf Coast evacuees. The largest concentration of evacuees in Texas remains at Reliant Park in Houston, where about 25,000 people are currently located and, as of Sunday, another 7,200 will be located at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. In addition to those evacuees, an estimated 170,000 other people from Louisiana and Mississippi are staying with friends or relatives, or in hotels in the Houston area. A spokesman for Houston's hotel owner's association estimates that about 45,000 of the Houston area's 55,000 hotel rooms are occupied by Gulf Coast evacuees.

As a result of the surge of evacuees, city and county officials shifted gears on Saturday and turned Reliant Park into a medical way station where newly arriving evacuees are assessed as to their medical needs. The injured or sick are taken off to either the onsite medical facility or the nearby Texas Medical Center, and then the healthy are given a meal and transferred to new shelters being opened in Huntsville, Corpus Christi and Lubbock. On Saturday, at the Reliant Park medical clinic, about a 1,000 volunteer doctors, nurses and other medical personnel treated 3,500 evacuees and sent about 100 of those to area hospitals. Doctors gave about 2,000 tetanus shots to people who were injured during their ordeal in the hurricane and its aftermath.

Meanwhile, Houston-area churches and charities continued organizing a massive relief effort on behalf of both the evacuees at the main shelters and others outside those shelters. A group of Houston churches raised about $4 million for a month's worth of meals at Reliant Park and the Brown Convention Center and to provide volunteer servers for those meals. Either a large church or several churches will be handling service of those meals each day over the next couple of months, and members of my family and I will be serving meals on Tuesday, September 20 as my family's church handles the food service operation on that day.

In addition to those efforts at the main shelters, the network of churches and local charities are also setting up the infrastructure necessary to provide relief to the tens of thousands of evacuees who are located around the Houston area outside of the main shelters at Reliant Park and the Brown Convention Center. Representative of that overall effort are the services being provided by my family's church in the South Montgomery County area of Houston, where our church is providing relief services to evacuees in three local hotels. Literally hundreds of other Houston-area churches and charities are providing similar services, including Second Baptist Church, First United Methodist in downtown Houston, Fellowship of The Woodlands, Chapelwood United Methodist, Lakewood Church, St. Luke's United Methodist, Windsor Village United Methodist, Christ United Methodist Church, the Catholic Churches of the Houston-Galveston Archdiocese and the remarkable Houston Food Bank. If you are not affiliated with a church or charity that is involved in this effort, Charles Kuffner provides this informative post on information on how to get involved.

So, although the relief effort that is going on at Reliant Park and the Brown Convention Center is certainly important and compelling, it is equally important to recognize that there is an even bigger relief effort ongoing at the same time that addresses the needs of over a hundred thousand people who are not at the more visible shelters. That this massive relief effort has been put together literally behind the scenes in less than five days is yet another reason why Houston is one remarkable place.

Posted by Tom at September 4, 2005 12:49 PM |


Lakewood has the 21st through 27th ... just signed up for a Thursday shift on the 22nd.

Posted by: Greg Wythe at September 4, 2005 3:20 PM

I remember first thinking when I heard about the Astrodome plans something along the lines of "Joel Olsteen will say a couple words on Sunday and we will one of the greatest voluntary mobilizations of humanitarian effort in the history of this country." I'm exceedingly happy to hear this now, Greg. Thank you and your church.

Posted by: Kurt at September 4, 2005 4:25 PM

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