Students offer support to hurricane victims

Harvey. Irma. José. In fewer than three weeks, each of these hurricanes struck North America, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation behind them. An estimated 200 people died in these three hurricanes, with hundreds more injured and thousands more left homeless. Just as recovery efforts in the affected areas began, a fourth hurricane, Maria, laid waste to Puerto Rico, wrecking the infrastructure of the island. The combination of the damage from and frequency of these hurricanes made their impact truly unprecedented.

On Aug. 26, Hurricane Harvey landed in southwest Texas, dropping over 50 inches of rain in some areas. Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, was almost entirely under water, leading hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. Many of those people could not return home, as their house had been destroyed by the rain and strong winds produced by Hurricane Harvey. However, the storm season was only beginning, with Hurricanes Irma, José, and Maria soon to follow.

Hurricane Irma was likely the most destructive of the recent wave of hurricanes. Its path led the hurricane to wreak havoc in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands. On the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Hurricane Irma leveled nearly every major building, leading to a complete evacuation. Then, the hurricane struck Florida at full force, causing over $50 billion worth of damage in a mere three days.

Continuing its track of demolition, Irma traveled through Florida and into Georgia, causing at least three Georgians to die and the Westminster Schools to close for two days. Around Atlanta, many schools and public offices shut down due to the loss of electricity and blocked roads from fallen trees. Tens of thousands of people in the Atlanta area lost power.

Hurricanes José and Maria followed closely on the heels of Irma, causing damage along the Atlantic coast of the United States and in Puerto Rico, respectively. The successive chain of hurricanes in such a short amount of time caused many to lose their homes, businesses, and family members. In the wake of this ruin, however, many people took this opportunity to launch themselves into service and fundraising to help those in need, including at Westminster.

“My mom’s family is from right outside Houston, so my aunt actually had nine feet of water in her house,” said senior Georgia Heery.

Concerns about her family translated into an idea in Heery’s mind to begin fundraising at Westminster to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“After seeing all of the damage my aunt posted about on her Facebook page, I thought, ‘I should do something about this,’” said Heery. “Initially, my idea for fundraising started just being for Harvey, but in the middle of it, Irma happened too.”

In addition to Heery’s idea to begin fundraising to help those in need, Westminster’s Service Corps also began to consider how they might help people affected by the hurricane.

“When we got to school after Hurricane Irma had passed, we started talking as a team to think about how we could assist hurricane disaster relief project,” said senior Service Corps member Lauren Brown.

Heery and Service Corps teamed up in order to create a successful project and raise awareness for the victims of the hurricane.

“I decided to do a raffle to raise money,” said Heery. “A raffle had never been done before at Westminster, but it worked pretty well for us.”

In order to make the project more effective, members of Service Corps worked to promote the idea of a raffle to raise money for hurricane victims.

“At Service Corps, we try to make sure that every single service project at Westminster is executed in the best way possible,” said Brown. “So Zoe Carson and I spoke at senior homeroom about the hurricanes.”

Service Corps created a booth outside of the lunchroom where people could buy tickets and contribute to the cause to help those affected by the hurricanes. Prizes for the raffle included a parking space in the senior parking lot, necklaces from senior Madison Patton’s jewelry company MP Jewels, a free dozen cookies from senior Emily Henegar’s company Cookie in the Kitchen, a Willy’s gift basket, and a $20 credit to the bookstore. Overall, the raffle raised more than $300 towards hurricane relief, donated to two organizations: the Greater Houston Community Foundation and the South Florida Alliance churches.

“The Houston organization was founded by the governor in Texas,” said Heery. “It was created because Houston is such an important city and they just need as much money as possible. The South Florida Alliance was a series of churches banded together in southern Florida to help people from Irma.”

In addition to raising money to help these victims, students from Westminster helped by donating blood to the Red Cross, as the hospitals and charities in Houston and Florida needed it desperately.

The growth of Heery’s idea into a such an impactful event demonstrated the potential a simple idea has here with the resources that Westminster has to offer.

“If you want to raise awareness for anything, and Westminster is your platform, then good for you,” said Brown.  “Just make sure you have a strong connection with whatever the cause is. If you could start a service relationship with another organization, that would be great because it would help other students get involved in the future.”

The barrage of hurricanes in the Caribbean, Florida, and Houston have negatively impacted thousands of lives. However, the devastation has given many people the chance to volunteer to help affected families and communities. The fundraising and awareness begun by Heery, Brown, and the rest of the service community at Westminster has been a part of the service movement, aiding people across the nation as they recover from these disasters.

Photo by Christianna Doele