On the Tuesday morning after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston, a group of Grassroots Leadership Academy graduates met at a storage unit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Together, they spent the next two days assembling 2,500 kits for evacuees that included things like soap, toothpaste and other necessities.
The volunteers knew what the people of Houston were going through. Just last year, Baton Rouge faced historic flooding of their own. Nearly a third of the homes in the area flooded.
“Two ladies who had their home flooded and lost everything last year stayed both days to help in the hot, muggy storage unit because they knew the suffering people were going through,” James Lee, the local Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) field director, said.
It was last year’s disaster that inspired AFPF’s Bridge to Wellbeing initiative to set up the storage unit in the first place. After the flood, Bridge to Wellbeing wanted to help out but had trouble getting supplies to the area. They decided to set up a storage unit stocked with supplies that could be quickly sent anywhere along the Gulf Coast in an emergency.
“It was fortunate, because it was just a month ago that the supplies were delivered to the storage unit,” Lee said. “This was the perfect opportunity to take the resources we had and deploy them out to the areas that were hardest hit.”
When Lee found out Monday afternoon they needed to assemble 2,500 kits, he blasted out an email to his community of volunteers. “I expected three to four people to respond,” he said. “Instead, the response was overwhelming.”
Lee immediately began receiving emails with offers of help. “My activists were calling, saying they were going to bring friends. People I had never even met were contacting me because someone had forwarded the email to them.” Soon he had a list of more than 20 volunteers who went to work assembling hundreds of kits.
On Thursday, Lee and some activists loaded 1,500 kits into a van and headed to the Lake Charles Civic Center, where hundreds of evacuees from the Houston area were arriving by bus. Because many were being evacuated from flooded shelters, the number of people the civic center expected to house had doubled since the beginning of the week.
“We showed up just in time with the supplies because they were running pretty low,” Lee said. “When we told the civic center volunteers the kits were for them their faces lit up because they had been out all night watching people arrive and they weren’t sure what they were going to do.”
That weekend, Lee and other volunteers brought the remaining kits to a charity convoy headed to Houston and helped load them on an 18-wheeler.
According to Lee, much of the effort’s success is thanks to the local community the Grassroots Leadership Academy trainings created. “Nearly everyone who came out to help had attended at least the Level 1 training,” Lee said. “GLA helped build a community of committed activists who understand the power of communities and how people can help each other without depending on government.”
“Without them,” Lee laughs, “I would still be in that storage unit packing those kits.”