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.
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.