GRACE AFTER FIRE: YOUNG VOLUNTEERS STEP UP TO HELP WILDFIRE SURVIVORS
Altruism is in the air in Texas. Communities are hosting barbecue fundraisers, families are baking cupcakes, musicians are singing for the cause, businesses are donating a portion of their sales and local volunteer organizations are helping with cleanup efforts. And it’s all for the sake of wildfire relief.
Texans are pulling together to help wildfire survivors in dozens of communities across the state. What’s more, from elementary school playgrounds to college campuses, young Texans are inspiring neighborly acts of kindness.
On a recent Saturday, a fourth-grade girl, her parents and little brother walked into the Bastrop Recovery Center, lugging 10 large boxes of toiletries and toys. After hearing about the wildfires, the young girl rallied her classmates, and together the students collected scores of toothbrushes, body soap, board games and books for families who lost everything in the blaze. The girl then convinced her parents to cart the boxes to the recovery center – 160 miles from her Elementary School in Alvin, Texas.
A brother and sister duo in San Angelo masterminded a “Pennies for Promises” fundraiser, leaving brightly decorated buckets at local businesses for patrons to deposit coins for Bastrop wildfire survivors. The Lake View ROTC alone gave more than 250 pounds of pennies, amounting to about $450. The 9- and 11-year-old organizers each donated $50 of their own birthday money to the cause as well.
Teenagers at Harmony High School in Upshur County dedicated their homecoming week to helping wildfire survivors in the area. They hosted bake sales and breakfast fundraisers, with all proceeds going to wildfire survivors from the Raintree Lake subdivision. Getting into the spirit, a Spanish teacher at the school “charged” her students for the privilege of using their cell phones and iPods in class. By the end of homecoming week, they had raised more than $13,300 for survivors.
Teachers and students from Montgomery High School joined forces with a local Mexican restaurant to host a wildfire relief fundraiser to support survivors in the Magnolia area. Student athletes and members of the Student Council, Interact Club and the Junior ROTC set up a dunk tank and ran a silent auction to raise money. All of the proceeds from the event will be made available to area families impacted by the fires.
College students across the state not only have school pride, they have Texas pride. Many Bobcats, Longhorns and Aggies are taking time away from their studies to help out those in need.
In San Marcos, Texas State student athletes donated goods and services to local nonprofits and collected money from home game fans for wildfire survivors. In College Station, a group of Texas A&M students sold more than $16,000 worth of maroon Aggie towels to be waved at a home game as a show of support for wildfire survivors. All proceeds were to be donated to the American Red Cross and the Texas Wildfire Relief Fund to support families and volunteer firefighters.
In Austin, University of Texas student organizations joined forces with the University Co-op and the American Red Cross to sell “I Love Bastrop” T-shirts and collect donations at city intersections. Furthermore, an army of some 800 Texas Longhorns traveled 30 miles from their college town to help families in Bastrop sift through the ash and rubble that was once their homes. The university’s Student Government organized the volunteer day with support from an AmeriCorps team enlisted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Click here to see photos from that event.
“The young volunteers have shown that everyone, regardless of age, can play a valuable role in the disaster recovery process,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin L. Hannes of FEMA. “Volunteers can be neighbors, friends and sometimes total strangers who simply want to help.”
FEMA and the Texas Division of Emergency Management, through Voluntary Agency Liaisons, are working with Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and their partner organizations to provide a wide range of assistance to wildfire survivors, including shelter, food, clothing, counseling, home repairs and other unmet needs. To learn more about the voluntary organizations and available resources in Texas, visit www.texasvoad.org.
Texans are reminded that they can register online at www.disasterassistance.gov, via web-enabled phone at m.fema.gov, or by telephone via FEMA’s toll-free numbers: 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585. Those who use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services can call 1-800-621-3362. Assistants are available by phone from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
Ashlie Chandler, FEMA Region VI