Helping After Hurricane Harvey
On Sunday, I headed to the NRG Center with the quilt and a giant bag of puppets and props.
I remembered the same kind of gorgeous, September day 12 years ago when I headed with the quilt to volunteer with Katrina evacuees at the Astrodome.
Both times, I felt anxious and uncertain about how I would be able to help. This time my nerves had the added stress of sitting in traffic for 1.5 hours. I timed my arrival, just as the Texan football fans were exiting the the stadium's numerous lots. I reminded myself that standstill, football traffic, was a lot better than the horrible evacuation traffic 2 weeks earlier.
The huge shelter space seemed impressive compared to what I recalled from the Astrodome, when it held thousands of Katrina evacuees.
But it still felt intimidating, as I headed for one of the 3 shelter areas, to volunteer.
Spreading the Quilt
I chose the area designated for women and children. I entered and spread the quilt next to a long line that was forming, to exit the area.
The women were waiting to meet with Red Cross reps and it seemed to be a slow process. One mother with 5 young children, was more than happy to let her kids get out of line for a little fun distraction on the quilt. Then others came.
Puppets, Songs and Crayons
I felt pretty unplanned and sloppy as I sang some songs and pulled goodies from the bag. I fumbled with my wooden puppet because I had no chair to secure his dancing platform... I pulled out the marionette and his strings were tangled. The quilt kept sliding around on the slick floor... But the kids were sweet and appreciative, asking me where I got my pretty quilt and puppets. They helped untangle strings and adjust the quilt. One little girl ran off to fine a chair. And then they settled in.
One boy asked if his dinosaur could dance with the puppet. Two toddlers with pacifiers sang the ABC's for me. Even a couple moms came and joined in with the crayons and paper and thanked me for coming.
No child or mother shared a story or worry with me. I had no idea what their recent days had been like. I don't know where they came from. But I was glad to see there could still be smiles and a little laughter.
This is the picture I took home with me. A young girl drew the NRG Center with its colorful logo and a heart in the center of the building. She pointed to the stick figures at the bottom and said the shorter one was her. She pointed to the other and said, "This one is you." Then she handed me the drawing and said I could keep it if I wanted.
I was touched.
I stayed until it was dinner time. I was tempted to linger, so I could see how they served food to so many. I was tempted to wander over to the pet area and figure out how that worked. But I already felt out of place, with a few eyes looking towards the woman with carrying a quilt and bag. Even a guard laughed after studying me and said, "Volunteer?" I was sort of glad no one knew for sure.
I got in my car feeling lucky, that I was headed home to my undamaged house. I couldn't help feeling a little guilty, too.
Finding Routine, After Harvey
I returned to my senior groups 2 weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. I wasn't even sure if the Senior Center in Richmond was open, but I arrived with my quilt. When I entered the back door I could see the lobby was set up with donations for "disaster clients".
Hugs and Stories, First
The hugs lasted longer than usual. We had all been concerned, not knowing who might have been flooded and who might have been evacuated. It was a relief to see so many, back at the center.
Some were quieter than usual and others were bursting forth with stories. There were a few tears and lots of comforting words. It was hard to know what my job was. Many obviously needed to talk, but I could see some growing more anxious with the hurricane focus.
Distracted by the Lunchbox
As we talked, I began putting the "school themed" props on the table and the focus changed.
R. smiled to see the lunchbox and remembered his favorite school lunch.. which lead to a story of his godmother's homemade biscuits. M. said she didn't have a lunchbox in Honduras, but she had yummy hot lunches, thanks to Unicef. B. said she remembered bringing the same sandwich to school everyday. "I had homemade bread, with homemade butter and horseradish!" She laughed at how bad her breath must have been after lunch. "But it tasted so good!"
Suddenly no one was talking about Harvey, because the things on the table were distracting us. The spelling book prompted talk of favorite subjects. The bell reminded us of all the ways teachers used to get our attention... with whistles and bells and even rulers slamming down on desks.
Dancing in School
M. asked me to get the music going. She had been stressed with storm worries and wanted to get up and dance. I played a jazzy version of Chuck Berry's "School Days". A few of us left our chairs and jumped up to dance. Some clapped and sang along. Others just laughed at the rest of us.
In and Out
I was glad so many were able to make it to the center on Tuesday. For some it took 2 hours in the senior shuttle, with road closures. Some came late and others needed to leave early. It was good to be reassured that so many were fine, after all. But there were others we didn't see... which lead to more worrying.
Fewer Worries in the Afternoon
In the afternoon I returned to the center where my senior quilt groups first began... thanks to my mom being a resident. When I walked in the building, I was reminded of 8 years ago when Mom was a new resident, hunkering down with other staff and residents for Hurricane Ike... and I was out of town. I had fretted over my mom from afar, but found her relaxed and happy when I returned. I remembe feeling a little grateful for Mom's memory issues. And on Tuesday, it was refreshing to meet with my afternoon gang where we happily enjoyed some living in the moment... with no talk of Harvey.
Walking to School
A conversation started up about walking to school. V. talked about the mile long walk to and from school. "I had to walk home for lunch, too."
V. also talked about a boy who used to get teased when he walked to school. "He was poor and only had one set of clothes." That reminded me of a story that B. told in the morning. She shared about a little girl who appeared one day in her Michigan grade school. "She just arrived at school one day and we'd never seen her. She had no shoes." She told us how the little girl had moved from Mississippi after her home had flooded. "She had nothing."
It was a sad, but also a fitting way to tie our school theme into the flood and storm news we had all been worried over. It was odd how the recent happenings affected our usually carefree group, but we also felt a little more bonded because of it. Hopefully our next gatherings will be a little less complicated.
Back at the Shelter
I headed back to the Women's Shelter when the roads cleared up after Hurricane Harvey. The moms were maybe more excited to see me, than the kids. The storm and flooding had kept kids from school for nearly 2 weeks and everyone was ready for distraction.
We couldn't use the "Rain Forest Room" where I often gather with the kids on the quilt. That space was filled with donations, ready to be distributed to flood victims. I found another corner and sang songs and played games with the kids.
But the weather was gorgeous and lured us outside. Children who had been cooped up for days, ran up and down the climber and squealed around the play area. A few older kids wanted to color and draw, so we spread the quilt on the picnic table.
Dick, Jane and Sally
I had a range of kids from 4 to 13 and they were wound up! I winked at the older kids to please play along with the puppet. I needed Pickles to help me calm these kiddos! Not only did the older kids play along, but they gave Pickles all sorts of advice about not being scared about starting school. One of the older kids suggested, "If somebody bullies you on the bus, tell the bus driver!"
I wasn't sure if these kids would even know about chalkboards. Do they have them anymore? But they were eager to get their hands dusty and draw some pictures for me.
I played a playlist of school themed songs. When Michael Jackson sang "ABC, 123", a few perked up like it sounded familiar. Not one child said. "That's Michael Jackson!" I was surprised. Seems like yesterday all kids knew the King of Pop.
I stopped by today, a couple weeks later and the atmosphere is different. We've all been dealing with Hurricane Harvey and schools will be closed another week. Looks like my theme came a little too early.
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.