OK, I hope I can get this out coherently – it’s been a long day.

I have decided that while Evan’s in school twice a week, I will do what I can to help out the hurricane victims in person. I have heard through the grapevine that, despite rumours, they do indeed need volunteers at the Convention Center here in Austin where there is a shelter set up for hurricane evacuees. So, I made my way down to the parking garage at 5th and Red River, and then over to the center’s volunteer registration entrance, clearly marked on Red River at Cesar Chavez. I went in and signed up, got a wristband for the day and a Red Cross name sticker, which was very easy. No one indicated to me that volunteers were not needed.

After I signed in, I was directed to a general area where tasks were to be assigned to volunteers. After some blind wandering, I found a gentleman with a notepad who was ready to set me up, but he informed me that I would not be needed because I could only give three hours. The “manager” just came through and told them that there was no need for anyone who could not work a full shift. I had expected this, just because of what I’ve heard, so I put my foot down. I explained that I had a great deal of family in the hurricane areas, and that I intended to help. I noted that those working full shifts would need coffee breaks, etc. He resigned to letting me “slip through” when he realized that I was not giving in. He assigned me to help with distribution, presumably of donated toys, clothes, etc.

I wandered into the convention center, and failed to find the distribution area. I asked a Red Cross volunteer, who didn’t know either, but directed me outside to where he’d seen towels being handed out. I walked out there and was put straight to work, sorting and folding washcloths in what I quickly realized was the shower area. After doing this for a while, I was then redirected to the showers themselves, helping people find showers to use, making sure they had all necesary toiletries etc., and even actually helping with showers for those who were less able. After the women were finished showering, I went back to the distribution area, where I began distributing toiletries into individual bags to be handed out to each person needing a shower. Then I was grabbed to go back to the showers and help the men find empty showers to use. As I was leaving, I walked a lady through the convention center to the clothing area to find a HUMONGOUS dress, her word, not mine. She was a hoot. Then rushed back to Evan’s school to pick him up. I can’t believe I was able to find such diverse work to occupy my in less than three hours, since they don’t need volunteers!

The showers. They are outdoor, community showers, roughly constructed of 2×4 wood boards and black plastic tarp-like material. There were three sections of showers, about a dozen in each section. The women had a designated shower time, and then the men had a designated shower time. The people waiting for showers waited quietly, peacefully and patiently in a tent for their respective turns. Because the showers are outside, it is so hot and steamy that it is virtually impossible for oneself to dry off thoroughly, even though there is a wonderfully generous supply of fluffy towels. The most amazing thing to me is that these people were SO HAPPY to have a shower. They were thrilled to be here, and many told me that they would stay.

The attitude throughout the convention center was of optimism and gratitude. I did not hear a negative word in my time there. Nothing but words of compassion and more and more gratitude. I had a blast, not because the work was necessarily fun, but because I was able to do something so significant for these people who are grateful to be alive, much less have a hot meal, shower, and clothes upon their backs. The idea that there could be a limit to the number of volunteers needed is absurd. As you read here in my account, work is easy to find. Should they run out of traditional work, then volunteers can play with kids, walk around with bottles of water, sit and talk to elderly people who are alone. I don’t know where the Red Cross is coming from on this. Maybe they’re concerned that it will become overcrowded? It wasn’t crowded at all when I was there. Maybe they’re worried that they won’t be able to feed all the volunteers? I didn’t accept the food that was offered to me, but I’m sure I would have accepted food if I had been there for a full shift.

So that was my experience. Thank you so much for letting me share, and I hope I have inspired someone to try and help out. I will be there every Tuesday and Thursday morning for as long as they need me.

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