They came from across the country, ninety-five to be exact: Salvation Army mobile response kitchens arriving to help Houston during Harvey Hurricane. As of this moment have delivered over 312,000 meals and helped over 20,000 survivors and first responders.
The drivers left their families and loved ones and literally rode thousands of miles into the storm. This is a story about the Salvation Army (SA) I didn’t know, and chances are, neither do you.
My point of view is twofold: first as an experienced first responder (fires, spills, rescues, crashes, infections) and secondly, as a volunteer inside the SA Emergency Disaster Team in the Houston Command Center. Prior to volunteering I was safe and secure, high and dry, inside my house watching all the destruction to my friends and community. I couldn’t take the survivors guilt. I had to get out and help.
What I saw blew my mind and just might blow yours. Consider it a “shattered” illusion–something I thought to be, wasn’t that at all.
Prior to my insiders view, my only previous contact with SA had been with the Kettle ringers during Christmas and Thanksgiving raising money for those in need. I had no idea that the Army was one of the most experienced and professional first responders in the nation, and perhaps the world. Their experience dates back to the year 1900, when they responded to our nations worst natural disaster–the Galveston Hurricane, where over 5,000 people perished. It continued in 1906 when they spent their entire national bank account ($4 million at the time) on the San Francisco earthquake survivors. They were also first on the scene after 911, delivering meals and services within less than an hour of the first tower being struck. In case you didn’t know, they delivered over 3 million meals, countless others with spiritual and emotional support, and more…much much more.
Before I continue, you need to know a little about how disaster recovery teams work. I learned this back in 1989 while supervising the Valdez Oil Spill clean-up team. The team begins with an Incident Commander, who has several direct reports: Logistics Chief, Safety Chief, Planning Chief, Operations Chief, Liaison Chief, and a Public Information Officer. Cascading beneath these chiefs is a small army of dozens of people. Lets call this the “Emergency Disaster Team.”
And here’s the bottom line–the point of this blog: I have seen dozens and dozens of these teams, but if my memory serves me correct, never have I seen one so well structured, organized, prepared, and CARING than the angels from the Salvation Army.
I could bore you with all the details, but trust me, this is complicated, tedious, and stressful work. It takes a special person just to be here! And this Army does this E-V-E-R-Y S-I-N-G-L-E day, in communities around the nation, for people they never met, will likely never see again, and getting paid 25-35 percent less than comparable non-profit.
Why, why do they do it? What motivates the people? Stay tuned for Part II, where I answer this question and share more from my insiders view.
For now, if you are interested in helping the Salvation Army, know two things: First, during times of disaster, 100 % of donations go to the impacted areas and secondly, here is the link: www.HelpSalvationArmy.org.