In the two weeks following Hurricane Harvey, half a million people were fed by 150 volunteers working 18-hour days in the kitchen of a former homeless shelter. Known now as I Have Food/I Need Food, the feed-and-rescue mission was organized by Matthew Wettergreen, Jonathan Beitler and Claudia Solis. Eight months later and a few blocks down the road from where the collaborative transpired, Solis shared her story with a crowd on the lawn of Discovery Green last week at the Harvey Heroes Discussion.
As Harvey’s waters ruined kitchens and pantries across the city, the need for nourishment was as overwhelming as Houstonians’ drive to care for one another, said Solis. Everyone from chefs to restaurateurs to farmers to musicians to people who had never spent a day in a kitchen found a way to participate with I Have Food/I Need Food. There was an assembly line where volunteers made 1,865 sandwiches in one hour alone. There was a grocery store for restaurants that needed ingredients. The Sufferers swapped their mics for wheels and delivered food across town. Donations poured in from across the country. One farmer even offered to slaughter and send thirty of her cows.
“I could go on and on and on about the offerings we received, but the important component is the community that we developed when we were there,” said Solis.
I Have Food/I Need Food is one of of the many heartening examples of Houston’s spirit, but folks across the city hope they never have to see anything like it again.
To prevent the level of devastation brought by Harvey, things have got to change, said Dr. Stephen Klineberg, a sociologist with the Rice Kinder Institute and author of the Houston Area Survey, now in its 37th year of publication. At the Harvey Heroes Discussion, Klineberg shared findings of the survey’s 2018 edition, released earlier this month. Every year the survey captures attitudes of a random and representative sample of Houstonians, explained Klineberg, but this year it was different. A pool of 1,500 residents whose homes sustained minimal to complete damage by the storm were asked for their thoughts on why Harvey was so devastating and how the city can protect itself for the future. The results were unanimous: something’s got to give.
The worst rainstorm in American history poured 32 trillion gallons of water on the region, dumping over $100 billion in damages on 13 million people, said Klineberg, and it’s up to policymakers to prevent another Harvey, according to more than half of the survey respondents. Taxes should be increased so the government can buy out repeatedly flooded homes, said 55 percent of respondents. Almost 70 percent said that development in repeatedly flooded areas should be illegal, a demand denied as the City Council and Mayor Sylvester Turner decided to permit development in the floodplain two days after the survey was released. And over two-thirds of the Houstonians polled agreed that Harvey’s devastation could have been less substantial were better laws in place.
Kleinberg described Harvey as the potential to be a “wake up moment” for Houston, like the time the city decided to put tighter regulations on pollution after it was deemed more toxic than Los Angeles in 1999. Or like the time the Olympic Committee snubbed Space City in 2004 because Houston was too much of an eyesore. Instead of resigning itself to concrete and smog, the city laid the lush lawns of Discovery Green and now, said Klineberg, “Houston is no longer ugly.”
Speaking from the stage on a park that has hosted countless concerts and community events just like the Harvey Heroes Discussion, Klineberg praised the city’s ability to reflect and progress. But with recent actions in the City Council, it might take going under again before Houston can go forward.