Three months later, Houston still in need

Houston residents hit by Hurricane Harvey got immediate help from strangers all across the country, from people like the LaSalle family of Bedford County who drove their big trucks full of donations to Texas.

But the need is still critical for many, some still in search of essential provisions such as enough food to eat or proper shelter because they lost their home, said Alan Bernstein, communications director for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

“Here we are three months later, and we’re still talking basic needs in some cases,” he said.

That’s why the Altoona Mirror, in partnership with the Central Pennsylvania Community Foundation, has named the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, Greater Houston Community Foundation as one of this year’s Season of Sharing recipients.

Since its inception more than a decade ago, the Season of Sharing fundraising committee has chosen donation recipients in the Blair County area.

But as Mirror General Manager Ray Eckenrode said, the past year has seen three devastating hurricanes that have left millions of Americans still hurting and in desperate need of help.

“One of the things that has made the Season of Sharing such a special, personal project for us at the Mirror is the local charities and local benefit,” he said. “It would take something truly extraordinary for us to get away from that, but we thought the aftermath of not one, not two, but three historically damaging hurricanes fit that bill.”

Donations in varied forms

The donations to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund have come in forms as varied as the groups that have sent them, Bernstein said.

One recent check came from a group in Germany, joining several donations that have come from overseas. One of the most touching contributions wasn’t a monetary donation, however, Bernstein said.

A group of students in an after-school housing program in Tulsa, Oklahoma, learned about the flooding in Houston from their teacher, who used the news story about the flooding to talk to the students about empathy.

The students said they wanted to do something to help the flood victims, so they made bracelets that were given to the Houston city employees at a special council meeting.

“Many of those employees continued to work through the hurricane even though their own homes were flooding out while they were working,” Bernstein said. “They were very touched by those bracelets.”

The fund has collected about $100 million, with the average donation at about $80, Bernstein said. But no matter the size, every contribution is appreciated.

“We have been very grateful and humbled by the response that we’ve seen,” he said.

As of mid-November, the fund has distributed a little more than one-third of what it has taken in, or about $36 million, to 90 nonprofit groups to help flood victims of Harvey.

The groups are already established, experienced groups in the community that provide services for seniors, families with children and others who need help with such things as replacement of furniture, new housing, or even food and other necessities and other costs because they lost everything in the flooding.

Devastation mixed

The Houston area is a mixed bag as far as recovery from Harvey, Bernstein said.

“It depends on what streets you drive on, what section you drive into,” he said. “Some areas, if you were Rip Van Winkle and just woke up and didn’t know we’d had a hurricane, you wouldn’t see any difference. But other parts, like down by the waterfront, that’s another story.”

Those areas close to the water still show the worst damage and will take a while to rebuild. Other sections further inland that saw little flooding appear undamaged.

That’s the story for the relatives of the LaSalle family of Bedford County, who helped deliver contributions collected by other area residents soon after Harvey struck last August.

Brandon LaSalle, who works as a lead engine mechanic at his father’s business at LaSalle’s Engine and Chassis in Breezewood, lived in the Houston area from the time he was a toddler until he was about 14.

His mother, grandmother and several aunts and other relatives still live there. He moved there with his mother after his parents divorced when he was a young child.

He said his mother didn’t have much damage to her home when Harvey struck because the water only came up to the top of her driveway.

“My family was very fortunate,” he said.

But his mother, who works at a hospital and is a paramedic, had to work during Harvey, which meant she had to get to the local hospital. She drove her husband’s Jeep while he took her vehicle. He’s a firetruck chief at a downtown fire company, and when a levee broke, the Jeep was carried away.

Hope is not lost

But compared to what others lost, Brandon’s family in Texas feels it fared much better than many of its neighbors. That’s why Brandon didn’t hesitate when he learned that his father’s family was going to transport donations to Houston soon after Harvey hit.

“They came up with the idea right away,” he said.

Brandon said his father, Chuck, told him Brandon’s uncle Dion had offered his empty tractor-trailer for people to fill with donations from all across the area. Dion owns LaSalle’s Garage in Everett.

Brandon increased the offer by adding his car trailer to make a convoy.

“As soon as they told me what they were doing, I was all in for it,” Brandon said.

The two trucks stuffed with all kinds of donated goods made their way to the Houston area to help those affected by the flooding. Brandon’s truck was so full the tires sagged, and he got a little concerned about how they looked, he said. But they made it to Texas without any problems.

Even though many had lost their homes and hundreds were still in need, Brandon said they hadn’t lost hope.

“Everyone I talked to, whoever I came in contact with, whether it was family or friends or just strangers on the street, everyone seemed to be in good humor,” he said. “Everyone was just helping each other.”

How to contribute

To make a tax-deductible contribution to the Altoona Mirror Season of Sharing and help hurricane-related charities, mail your check to the Altoona Mirror, 301 Cayuga Ave., Altoona, PA 16602.

Checks should be made out to the Season of Sharing.

The funds raised through the Season of Sharing will be administered by the Central Pennsylvania Community Foundation. The Mirror will pay the foundation a small fee to take care of the Season of Sharing funds, and you can rest assured that every dollar donated will go to the designated charity.