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Red Cross: Thankful for neighbors helping neighbors

By Chester R. Jourdan Jr.

As our nation enters a season of celebration and thankfulness, many Texans may not fully share in that celebration after having suffered losses from Hurricane Harvey, the shooting in Santa Fe, floods, house fires and other tragic events.

As I look back on all that has transpired, I am inspired by and thankful for this community’s tireless efforts to pull together and help each other. The numerous stories of heroic efforts during Harvey, have been matched by the daily acts of extravagant generosity from everyday heroes who give of their time to help their neighbors.

In the year since Harvey made landfall, our community has worked tirelessly to recover from this devastating storm. Government agencies, non-profit and faith-based organizations have come together to help those in need. We have made great progress in recovery but with thousands of families still not able to return to their homes, there is still much more to do.

Much of the progress that we have made so far is due to contributions by Texans who are looking for a way to help. Every weekend volunteers can be found from Beaumont to Brownsville helping rebuild homes, or hosting community events to connect Harvey survivors with much-needed resources to help them recover. These events happen because neighbors are willing to help neighbors by putting in the time and sweat-equity needed to build stronger and more resilient communities for the future.

As an organization that relies on volunteers — they are 90 percent of our workforce — the Red Cross depends on this contribution of time and talent that is so crucial to our ability to respond to disasters large and small.

Since Harvey, volunteers across the Texas Gulf Coast have given more than 120,000 hours of their time to stock disaster supplies in our warehouses, drive emergency response vehicles to where they are needed to support communities in crisis, and to provide aid to first responders who are on the front lines of a response effort. It is volunteers who set up shelters, distribute blankets to victims of home fires, answer the call to donate blood so that it is available for life-saving medical treatment and offer emergency communication to service members who are deployed when a family crisis arises so that members of the Armed Forces can get home.

This tremendous volunteer spirit drives the extraordinary generosity of donors who contribute so that neighbors near and far can receive help from the Red Cross when it is needed. I am deeply grateful that people around the globe contributed $522.7 million dollars to help Texans impacted by Harvey. Thanks to their generosity, as of the one-year anniversary of Harvey, we have been able to provide financial assistance and commit grant funding of more than $400 million for recovery assistance on the Texas Gulf Coast.

While the 2018 Hurricane season is ending, we know another disaster is always right around the corner. Even as Texans are heading west to help their neighbors in California, our staff and volunteers are preparing to respond to the next home fire in our community.

Last year the Texas Gulf Coast Chapter of the Red Cross responded to 2,100 home fires. This means volunteers with only a moment’s notice rush to the aid of a neighbor whose home has caught on fire to provide ­­­­­emotional support, spiritual care or a temporary place to stay. Our volunteers are also active in our Home Fire Prevention campaign to help families understand their risks, create safety plans and disaster kits and test and install smoke alarms. Since the program began in 2014, Red Cross volunteers have installed ­­­­­more than 18,000 free smoke alarms in the Texas Gulf Coast region.

So much that happens is out of our control.  We can’t stop the fires and the hurricanes but we can control how we respond.  As we have proven time and time again, Texans are resilient and optimistic, and one thing I believe we can all agree on is the continuing need for us to help one another in times of need.  Texans responding with their hearts and giving the greatest gift of all, their time, is a true blessing, and something for which I am most grateful this Thanksgiving.    

Chester R. Jourdan Jr. is executive director of the American Red Cross of Southeast and Deep East Texas.