SGA joins recovery effort

In light of Hurricane Ike’s devastation throughout many urban areas, the Student Government Association has joined volunteer committees to help the Houston community in its recovery.

The SGA brought assistance this week by responding to a City of Houston request of volunteers in a Hurricane Ike relief effort.

"Although many Houston residents are now living with no electricity, water or even monitoring severe housing conditions, many volunteers have put their personal obstacles on hold in order to help other Houston citizens regain their normalcy," SGA President Sam Dike said.

After the Point of Distribution site at Texas Southern University incurred an influx of volunteers Tuesday, SGA and UH volunteers reported to the POD at Ripley House, 4410 Navigation Blvd., in shuttles and vans to represent the Cougar Community Response Teams.

The volunteers passed out items donated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency team to those in need of assistance, which included a case of bottled water, two bags of ice and an emergency meal kit to each family waiting in block-long pedestrian or vehicle lines.

"I’m not as fortunate as some people, and I just want to give back," said mechanical engineering junior and hurricane relief volunteer Carmel Glumac. "I have food and water, but I know many people don’t."

Twanna Proctor, who works as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at Houston Hope, an organization that helps rebuild lower-income communities, admitted to needing similar supplies in her Humble home, but decided to lend a hand instead.

"They said we are looking at three weeks with no water or electricity," said Proctor, a mother of four. "I take bottled waters to work to freeze so my kids can get colder water, but it’s OK, we’re made strong we can survive. It’s just selfish not to help others."

Along with overlooking personal setbacks, some volunteers felt this was a more productive way to use their spare time since classes and work have been cancelled for many.

"I heard about this relief through friends. I have spare time today, and I wanted to be progressive," said biology senior Jesse Valles, who volunteered from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and return today and Friday.

First year social work graduate student Neha Neurekar decided to volunteer once her classes were cancelled and she was informed by her dean about the relief site.

"I figured I wasn’t doing anything else, why not help the community?" said Neurekar, who brought along a friend who had been out of work all week.

After days of not being able to do anything because of roadblocks and curfews, many are just happy to be able to be out and view volunteering as a second benefit. Wednesday’s relief effort had about 140 to 150 UH volunteers during its three-shift intervals.

As for relief seekers, despite the lines that started forming before sunrise, many returning volunteers noticed a significant decrease since Monday.

"This is the shortest I’ve ever seen the line," said Chris Varela, a member of the Department of Public Works and Engineering Materials Management. "Yesterday (the line) was three blocks. I think that since we are getting more power, people are (needing) less."

Joaquin Martinez, youth development manager of Ripley House and site relief coordinator, area said the neighborhood has been gaining electricity in patches, which could be the reason many people are not as bad off.

"(The shorter lines) are a testament that some things are getting back to order," Dike said. "We have made strides, but some people will need continued relief, and we still need to fix the necessary considerations for people who lost everything."

Although word has spread about the various distribution sites, many seeking relief have no way of obtaining news regarding assistance.

"We have no lights and no food. We found out by a relative," Wayside resident Serena Ybarra said. "I think this effort is really good. I appreciate that (students) are helping out too, and taking the time out."

Rev. Albert Brown of Trinity Gardens First Baptist Church said that along with no electricity he has dealt with mold from a tree that split the back wall of his family apartment.

"I’m one of those proud types. I tried to keep from coming down here, but I broke down and came," he said.

Several Houston entities have also taken personal interests in citywide relief efforts. Volunteers from the U.S. military, the Houston fire and police departments and pastors from Lakewood Church have worked at PODs.

"This is something Lakewood is supporting," said family therapist Jairo Moreno. "It’s important to us because this is about the people and the community, and that is what Lakewood is about."

The SGA will continue its part in the hurricane relief effort. For those interested in volunteering closer to campus, a POD will open on campus at 7 a.m. today in Lot 12B.

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