Story and Photos by Chris Genin, American Red Cross volunteer
Unless you’ve resided or worked in an American Red Cross shelter, it’s difficult to get a sense of what goes on to ensure the comfort and safety of people who have come to the shelter for help. Volunteers work around-the-clock to maintain a positive environment and guarantee people’s needs are met. This is a huge job and the Red Cross often works with partner agencies in the shelter so that things run smoothly.
Alex Unger, an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Core (NCCC) team leader, is one such volunteer who represents a partner agency and is working side-by-side with Red Cross workers to efficiently run one of the remaining Red Cross shelters at Houston’s Greenspoint Mall.
AmeriCorps is a team-based national community service program run by the federal government and Alex and his team operate under the NCCC. Teams, comprised of eight to 12 people, travel the country building homes, responding to disasters, working with kids and performing energy and environmental conservation work. Their assignments generally last 10-months but all that can change if disaster strikes, as it did in Texas. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, AmeriCorps sent 12 teams to Texas.
Alex’s team helped spearhead the shelter set up and had the big task of unloading and organizing truckloads full of residents’ personal belongs. Most Greenspoint Mall residents moved from another shelter and a system had to be implemented to make sure personal belongings went with them. Alex’s team sorted boxes and created a system to reunited belongings with their rightful owners.
Hundreds of people descended on the shelter, some traveling with 10 massive boxes and others bringing one small tote. Alex’s team organized these things in an orderly manner, while at the same time remaining readily available to help in other areas. No matter the quantity, Alex handled all belongings with care, keeping in mind that what he was unloading could be all their material possessions after the hurricane.
AmeriCorps team members help manage laundry service, sorting and distributing donated items, serving meals, unloading deliveries and maintaining general cleanliness. All of this is done in support of the residents who call this shelter home nearly seven weeks after Hurricane Harvey.
Alex, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin, joined AmeriCorps because he wanted to experience this unique way of life and to develop his leadership ability. He and his team are going to continue their work in Houston until they complete their service year on November 15.
“People are really appreciative of the work that we’re doing here,” Alex said. “Whether it’s serving meals or passing out clothes, a lot of people basically have nothing. It’s humbling to be a part of it all, to sit with someone and hear their story. It’s great to see people getting back on their feet.”
If you are interested in helping with the Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts, please visit redcross.org to learn more.