Volunteers Of Houston

Volunteers Of Houston


Leonard Zwelling

Toilet paper. A mound of rolls that needed to be divided into plastic bags, two rolls per bag. This bag of two was then filled with two rolls of paper towels. The four roll bags were tossed on another mound. By two PM Saturday both mounds were high. Two great pyramids of paper products in plastic bags. By four, the second was gone. The first was depleted, but the donations of toilet paper exceeded those of paper towels. We will need more towels on Sunday to create what will undoubtedly be another four-bag mound for the greater community of Houston. (We returned to our station on Sunday and renewed the paper pyramid building.)

The tennis center of the Jewish Community Center on South Braeswood has been converted to a supply and distribution center for all in need in the aftermath of Harvey. And they came. Since Thursday the people and the donations streamed in—along with the volunteers, like us.

Houston is already the top contender for Time’s “Man of the Year” in my book and that of Texas Monthly’s executive editor Mimi Swartz (see URL above) from Sunday’s NY Times.

The BW (beautiful wife) and I followed sons Andrew and Richard to be amongst the many volunteers who are showing the world what Houston is really made of. Those New Yorkers may not want to live here because of the flooding, but they all wish they were part of a community as great as this one. If I have said it once, I will say it a thousand times. “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.”

But as Ms. Swartz points out, it is going to take far more than thousands of volunteers, millions of donated dollars from the enormously generous civic leaders of Houston, and the many pyramids of toilet paper. Only government can bring us back—federal, state, county, and city.

First, let’s make sure the federal government acts quickly so there are no delays as was the case after Hurricane Sandy.

Second, along with meeting the immediate needs of Houstonians and other Texans, let’s address the infrastructure defects that led to such widespread flooding. If that means buying out homeowners living in flood-prone areas, let’s do it—at a fair price.

Third, it’s time for zoning in Houston and saying no to building where we should not.

Fourth, climate change is real. Three 500-year floods in three years are enough of an experiment for me. This is not regression to the mean. It’s warmer. There is more water in the atmosphere, and there is more and harder rain.

This recovery will be slow despite what President Trump generously said about us Texans. In the hurry to restart our lives, let’s be sure that we admit to some shortcomings in urban planning and address as many of these errors as we can.

One of the great albums by Jefferson Airplane was Volunteers with its anthemic title track, back in 1969. Volunteers then were for a “revolution” according to the San Francisco sextet. In Houston, today, the volunteers are to remove sheet rock, save lives and even give out toilet paper. All the generations are contributing. This is Houston!

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