In 2016 we committed to donating $5 for every order we received to a disaster relief fund. We decided that we would put that money aside, and donate it to those in need when something devastating happens.
Later that year we decided that when the next major disaster occurred we would go volunteer in person. Both founders had done volunteer trips earlier in life, and felt passionate about giving both funds and time to those affected.
When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in late August, our team was blown away by how many people were forced from their homes. We knew it was our chance to give back, even in a small way, in person. So we booked flights for Houston and signed up with All Hands Volunteers to work with them for 3 days. While we had done volunteer trips in the past, none of us had ever been to a place so recently hit my such a major disaster. We didn't know what to expect, but we truly couldn't have imagined how inspired we would be when we left.
After getting our assignment from the All Hands team at 7am, we headed to the job site. It didn't take long to see the devastation from Harvey - our drive into the neighborhood was intense. Literally every house was being gutted, with soaked and moldy furniture, drywall, clothes and possessions heaped into piles in front of each house.
Some houses had workers going in and out. Some were totally empty and boarded up. Earlier we found out that All Hands had committed to 2 years in Texas, and we now understood why - these neighborhoods will need a lot of work before folks can move back in.
We'd been wondering for the last few weeks what the aftermath of a disaster looks like - here it was, right in front of us.
We got there and met the crew we'd be working with. All volunteers, from all over the country. Rafael and Carlos from Southern California, with experience in construction and and demolition. We would have been there for much longer without their experience. They were at the tail end of a week and a half volunteer trip. Jordan from Kansas City, who we'd work with all three days. He was on his first week of a two month volunteer run. Faye from Boston, Jill from Indianapolis, and so many others that were inspired to show up and do what they could.
To our intense surprise, the Denise (the homeowner), her husband and their 5 dogs were still living in their toxic and moldy house 4 weeks after the flooding - they had never really left. We wore professional-grade masks throughout the day. Even still, it was hard to stomach the stench of the mold each time we walked in the home, and we were coughing for days afterwards. It was not a healthy place to be.
Our team lead encouraged the home owners to claim the hotel vouchers that FEMA provides so they could get out of there and let us do what had to be done. That night was the first night they slept elsewhere since the flood.
Exterior and interior photos from the site
Denise was very sweet, and was happy to talk about her experience. She told us how her husband had stayed in the house while the waters rose to take care of their dogs. Resources were definitely short, and they were facing the complete destruction of their home. It would be easy to angry.
What struck us most was how welcoming and happy she was throughout. Every question we asked was answered with a smile, calling us sweetheart, child or baby. She made us all feel so at home, even if in rough situation.
While we were glad we could do what needed to be done by tearing out literally everything under 4 ft tall, the biggest impact was how inspired we all were by her positive attitude and loving character. We were able to do something valuable for her and her home, but the impact she left on us was even greater.