On Sunday, remnants of Hurricane Harvey whimpered through the Buffalo Niagara region with a few bands of rain showers. At the same time, area American Red Cross volunteers were in southeast Texas, helping residents rebuild their lives amid the storm's massive devastation.
The volunteers provided food, water and shelter for thousands displaced from their homes. They performed disaster assessments in some of Harvey’s hardest-hit areas and delivered “comfort kits” of food, water, rakes, shovels and cleaning supplies into neighborhoods for residents trying to clean up.
“They’re here as humanitarians,” said Jay Bonafede, a spokesman for the American Red Cross in Western and Central New York. He said roughly 2,700 volunteers from across the country fanned out across southeastern Texas for the Labor Day weekend, with 600 more on the way.
One volunteer, Diane Sargent of Lockport, was doing disaster assessments in affected areas.
Others helped with shelter operations, provided mental health services and managed logistical duties.
Bonafede, who is assisting in Texas for a week, handles public affairs. He spoke to The Buffalo News on Sunday afternoon from the region that was flooded with more than a year’s worth of rain in just a few days.
The George R. Brown Emergency Center in downtown Houston is the largest of several American Red Cross shelters set up in the region, Bonafede said.
The city’s convention center housed as many as nearly 11,000 people early last week and as many as 8,000 on Wednesday.
When Bonafede arrived Friday, he found nearly 5,000 people still there.
“That was pretty overwhelming,” Bonafede said. “That was by far the largest shelter I’ve ever seen.”
Besides providing basic necessities, American Red Cross partners also supply entertainment and some distractions for those displaced by Harvey.
A separate play area was set up for children with characters in costume. There was another spot for pets. A disc jockey set up outside to play music and some danced. Walmart and McDonald’s opened “pop-up” stores. And the American League-leading Houston Astros paid a visit there Friday.
By Sunday, Bonafede said about 1,200 people remained at the shelter.
Many had returned to their homes, were staying with family members or found alternative long-term housing.
“That’s still an enormous number of people, but it’s way down,” Bonafede said. “It’s still a massive relief operation at this point.”
While food and water deliveries are still being made in the hardest-hit areas, focus has also shifted to recovery.
Red Cross teams are traveling out into communities with disaster kits that include cleaning supplies, rakes, shovels and other necessities.
“They’ll load it up and go wherever they’re needed,” Bonafede said.
— Jay Bonafede (@JayBonafede) September 2, 2017
What can Buffalo Niagara residents who want to help but can’t travel to Texas do?
“The best way to help is through financial donations,” Bonafede said. “Our most efficient way to get their immediate needs met is through financial donations.”
Those can be made to the American Red Cross by:
• Going online at https://www.redcross.org/donate/hurricane-harvey
• Texting “HARVEY” to 90999
• Calling 1-800-435-7669
• Mailing to: American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37839, Boone, Iowa 50037-0839
The City of Buffalo, True Bethel Baptist Church and the Salvation Army are also leading efforts to aid victims affected by the hurricane in Texas and Louisiana.
The list of requested items includes deodorant, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, diapers, baby formula, baby wipes, towels, blankets, cases of water, crayons, pencils, pens and notebooks.
New and unopened personal care and other items can be dropped into white collection boxes in City Hall, True Bethel Baptist Church at 907 E. Ferry St. and at Salvation Army of Buffalo locations at 960 Main St., 21 Westminster Ave., and 187 Grant St.
Donations will be accepted Tuesday through Sept. 11.
News Staff Reporter Deidre Williams contributed to this report.