On the morning of Sunday, August 27, Bill Baldwin set out on his bicycle through two feet of water to reach the George R. Brown Convention Center. Baldwin, who owns Heights-based Boulevard Realty, wasn't seeking shelter, however—he was looking to help out. But only hours after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, the Red Cross-run shelter wasn't quite firing on all cylinders yet.
"They were not overly organized," recalls Baldwin, partly due to a shortage of volunteers. From 10 a.m. until 1 a.m. Monday, the Red Cross placed Baldwin in charge of mustering those few volunteers, who accomplished as much as they could. "We were assembling carts, receiving donations, countless numbers of people coming in, getting them dried and fed."
The City of Houston gave him a hotel room at the attached Hilton Americas, and soon Baldwin was a nearly permanent fixture at the GRB. "I had this yellow hat on, so people knew to ask ‘The Guy in the Yellow Hat’ if they were coming to volunteer,” says Baldwin, who worked through Wednesday evening before the convention center finally had enough volunteers for him to head home.
During that time, however, Baldwin met four other volunteers at the GRB: Erin Locke, Chris Brombacher, Pablo Vega, and Rick Smaile. The team quickly formed a bond, and wanted to find other ways to help outside of the convention center. Baldwin had an idea for corralling folks like this—folks who had help to offer, but didn't know where to go.
"When I went back to my office, it felt like there was no place for people to donate or volunteer," he says. "So on Friday, I found a warehouse on Summer Street, and with the help of my office and friends, we came up with The Harvey Relief Hub, a hub of information where people could donate, and track the needs of people across the region. It was an intake and outtake of people serving the public."
In addition to his new GRB friends, Baldwin's own employees at Boulevard Realty came in to volunteer—as did about 500 other Houstonians during the 16 days The Harvey Relief Hub was open.
"We saw the tremendous outpouring of people who wanted to volunteer," says Baldwin. "9,000 families were served by simply walking in. It was ever-flowing with goods and services coming in and out." And although that outpouring continues apace, Baldwin and his team have realized a need to shift their focus as Houston itself shifts into recovery mode.
As of this week, The Harvey Relief Hub has closed its doors, but not for long. "We will not be open to the public this coming week as we begin to transition our efforts to serve as distribution and support to neighborhood relief centers and smaller grassroots organizations," the website reads today. "That being said, we will still need donations and volunteers to continue our work as a central hub. So stay tuned!"
For now, however, affected Houstonians can still access The Harvey Relief Hub's resources such as asking for assistance with cleaning and repairs, information on financial assistance and FEMA benefits, and how to find transportation, housing, food and other basic necessities. If you want to volunteer, you can still do that too: Fill out this form on the website to let The Harvey Relief Hub know exactly how you can help. And if you're in a position to help financially, that's one resource Harvey relief efforts can use most of all.