Hurricane Harvey: A Starting Point for Family Volunteerism

Teaching kids civic responsibility offers rewards for all

by Kimberly Blaker

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

The current crisis in Houston, with the devastating destruction of Hurricane Harvey, presents the perfect opportunity for families to take up a good cause. There are ample ways to help out and make a difference in the lives of those impacted, whether you live in the Houston vicinity or not.

Volunteering is a great way for families to make a difference in their communities and provides plenty of benefits to those who volunteer their time and skills. First and foremost, nothing is more rewarding than knowing you’ve made a difference in the lives of others. What’s more, volunteering raises kids’ sense of civic responsibility, makes for an excellent family bonding experience, and provides valuable skill building and socialization opportunities for kids and adults alike.

Regardless of where you live, countless volunteer opportunities are available – and there’s something to fit every family’s talents and interests. Share these ideas with your kids to see what triggers their enthusiasm. Then make a family plan to put it into action.


Aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey

There are many ways families can help. One of the simplest and most effective ways is to donate money to one of the many non-profit organizations offering relief for those affected. Before donating money to any organization, look it up on Charity Navigator to help ensure your donations will be used appropriately. Consider the following organizations for your monetary donations:

  • Texas Diaper Bank
  • Houston Coalition for the Homeless
  • Portlight for people with disabilities
  • Global Giving
  • American Red Cross
  • SPCA of Texas for displaced pets
  • Save the Children
  • Driscoll Children’s Hospital

If you’d like to help Hurricane Harvey survivors in other ways, diapers, baby food, formula, clothing, food, and activities such as coloring books, puzzles, and games are needed at the shelters. But call first before dropping off your donations. If the items aren’t needed at a particular location, it burdens the local organizations and volunteers whose efforts are crucially needed elsewhere. Space to store such items can also be a problem.

  • You can volunteer to help Hurricane Harvey victims in the following ways as well:
  • Donate blood through South Texas Blood and Tissue Center or Carter BloodCare. Both O positive and O negative are the most direly needed.
  • Sign up (in person) to offer your help with cleanup at Austin Disaster Relief Network’s Hope Family Thrift Store. You can also drop off your donations of undergarments, cleaning tools, toiletries, and inflatable mattresses.
  • Donate construction clean up supplies and equipment to Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group.
  • If you own a boat or vehicle that can handle high water and would like to help with rescue efforts, contact the Houston area Sherriff’s office.


Other Opportunities for Family Volunteerism Year ‘Round

Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry. The poor and homeless are always in need of nutritious food and meals. Search online for local soup kitchens and food pantries. Then call and speak to the manager, and offer your family’s service. Be sure to mention the age of your children in case there are age restrictions. At a soup kitchen, you can help prepare and serve a meal or do kitchen cleanup. For a food pantry, help with stocking or putting together food baskets for families in need. Some pantries also need delivery assistance since many poor families don’t have transportation to pickup their food supply.

Help out at an animal shelter. Cats and dogs spend days, weeks, and often longer cooped up in small kennels or crates with little opportunity to exercise or socialize. Offer to spend an afternoon walking dogs or playing with cats. Other things you can do for a shelter include transporting a pet to a new home, cleaning kennels, donate supplies, or help find loving homes through social media.

Adopt a road or park for cleanup. Most states have adopt-a-highway programs. These typically require a signed contract for a period of 2 to 4 years with a promise to clean up a designated area 2 to 4 times a year. Alternatively, you could pick an unsightly city street and just head out to clean up the debris. Keep kids safe by requiring them to stay off the road and picking up litter only on the boulevard. If you have younger kids, park cleanup is a safer option.

Paint a park bench. Benches are found in parks as well as shopping districts and along bus routes. Contact your city hall or parks and recreation department, and request permission to freshen up a bench. If your family is artistic, ask if you may do something creative to make it more cheerful.

Help build a house with Habitat for Humanity. This organization helps build and renovate homes for families in need of safe shelter. Visit habitat.org to find your local Habitat organization, and ask how you can help. Habitat also offers a teen volunteer program.

Send letters to military members overseas. Veterans, new recruits, and deployed troops deserve and need to know just how much we appreciate their dedication and service to our country. For more information, visit https://www.operationgratitude.com/writeletters/

Hold a coat, blanket, and backpack drive for the homeless. Homelessness exists in every community throughout the country whether visible or not. Destitute individuals are always in need of warm coats and blankets as well as something to easily carry their bare necessities in. Coordinate with a local homeless shelter, and set up several drop off locations throughout your community. Then create and pass out fliers in your neighborhood, on parked cars, and at street corners. You can also post fliers on grocery store and laundrymat bulletin boards, share them on social media, and email family and friends asking them to help spread the word.

Help an elderly person by running errands. Do you know an elderly person who doesn’t drive or own a vehicle? Offer to transport them to do their errands and grocery shopping. If it’s too difficult for the elderly person to go out, you could offer to do the errands for them.

Put together care kits for homeless shelters. Ask local businesses to donate items for the homeless care kits you plan to create. The following are useful items to include in each kit: toothpaste, tooth brush, dental floss, a comb, bar of soap, shampoo, package of hand wipes, razor, shaving cream, protein bars, and other small useful items. Any food items should be non perishable and require no preparation.

Help someone who’s visually impaired. Search online for your local organization for the visually impaired and offer your help. An impaired person may need assistance with cleaning, cooking, yard work, or errands. You can also ask the organization about other ways you can help.

Offer your service to a domestic violence shelter. Coordinate with a local women’s shelter to hold a clothing and toy drive. Or put together arts and crafts kits, and spend an afternoon teaching craft workshop for children at the shelter. Childcare is also often needed for working mothers staying at these shelters.

Hold a bake sale for a charity. Pick your favorite charity, and hold a bake sale to raise funds for it. Ask a busy local business or grocery store if you can set up a table on a given day for your charity bake sale. Then invite family and friends to pitch in and help with the baking.

Plant seeds or greenery along a highway or main street. Check with your city first. Then contact managment at local nurseries, and ask them to donate plants or seeds for the project. Plant only native flowers, shrubs, and trees that won’t require watering or maintenance.

Rake, mow, or remove snow for a disabled person. If you don’t know anyone in your community who’s disabled, ask coworkers or friends if they know of anyone. Or do an online search for disability organizations in your area. Then reach out, and offer your service.

Foster a homeless animal. Animal rescues are always in need of families to foster homeless pets while awaiting permanent placement. Do a search online for pet rescues and animal shelters. If your family has a favorite breed, look for a breed specific rescue in your area.

Perform for children in a hospital. Countless children suffer from diseases which require lengthy and sometimes indefinite hospital stays. If your family’s got talent, what better way to put it to good use? Search for a children’s hospital or wing in your area and arrange a date to perform for the kids. You could put on funny skits, perform magic, dance, play music, or do acrobats.

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