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News / Clark County News

Local organizations, businesses mobilize to offer Harvey relief

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor, and
Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 1, 2017, 10:27pm
3 Photos
Senior Program Officer Jeff Thompson speaks about providing disaster relief to those affected by Hurricane Harvey at Forward Edge International’s headquarters Friday in Vancouver. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in Houston.
Senior Program Officer Jeff Thompson speaks about providing disaster relief to those affected by Hurricane Harvey at Forward Edge International’s headquarters Friday in Vancouver. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in Houston. (Andy Bao/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As first responders continue to aid Houston and surrounding areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey, Vancouver-based organizations and businesses are mobilizing to offer various forms of disaster relief.

“We need hearts that are willing to serve,” said Jeff Thompson, senior program officer with Forward Edge International, a local nonprofit relief group. “Once the first responders leave, people are left on their own.”

He intends for Forward Edge to establish partnerships with faith-based and other relief groups, as well as individuals, in the Houston area to provide assistance. The organization, which considers itself to be a second-phase responder, will help flood victims clean up debris and restore their homes. In past disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, volunteers helped to rebuild homes.

Harvey came ashore Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days. The storm dumped rain for five consecutive days, totaling nearly 52 inches. It’s the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S.

An estimated 156,000 dwellings in Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, were damaged by flooding, according to the county’s flood control district. Thousands of displaced people are staying in shelters, including in Dallas and Louisiana.

Forward Edge primarily assists the elderly, single mothers, widows, and families or individuals without insurance, Thompson said.

Creating partnerships with Houston area relief groups will be crucial in identifying victims to help, he said. Forward Edge is in the process of making those contacts and plans to send someone to Houston next week or the following. The organization needs to find potential housing for volunteers and a place to establish a base.

“We want to come alongside these families,” Thompson said. “We try to match resources with the need.”

He added that partnerships in Southeast Texas can provide people with support after Forward Edge volunteers leave.

“Recovery doesn’t happen in months, it happens in years,” Thompson said.

The goal is to send 500 to 1,000 volunteers to Houston over the next few months, he said. In the aftermath of Katrina, Forward Edge sent some 3,000 volunteers to help.

First responders and relief organizations learned a lot from Katrina, Thompson said, which led to more preparation for Harvey, resulting in fewer casualties. They also learned that families take years to recover from the devastation, he said.

The biggest hurdle, Thompson said, will be restoring infrastructure in the city. Hurricane Irma, a Category 2 storm far out over the Atlantic is also a concern, he added.

Thompson encourages community members to volunteer or send donations for Forward Edge’s Harvey disaster relief fund, which currently has about $20,000.

In the next 30 days, Forward Edge will reach out to partners, send equipment to the Houston area, collect money, and enlist and begin sending volunteers, he said.

Details about Forward Edge mission trips can be found at forwardedge.org.

Local businesses are also snapping into action.

Marian Adams, owner of Frontier Public House at 4909 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave., said a former employee recently moved back to Oklahoma and had attended college in the now-flooded city of Beaumont, Texas. Between talking with him and seeing footage on the news, she decided to get involved.

“This is very outside my usual character, I’m not a cheerleader. I don’t know — it’s just important,” she said. “People need a lot of help. I can make small sacrifices that can make a difference. And I just thought I could tap the shoulder of people I know well.”

Adams, who opened the pub three years ago, enlisted owners of Mt. Tabor Brewing and Bleu Door Bakery to kick 10 percent of sales through Sept. 8 over to the American Red Cross. Bonnie Brasure, owner of Bleu Door at 2411 Main St., said she hoped to make as big an impact as possible.

“I’m hoping we have a record week, because it would be nice to have a nice chunk to send down,” she said.

Restoration firm Blaze Restoration, which opened in Vancouver in November, will also match donations to the American Red Cross, up to $1,000, through Sept. 8.

“We just wanted to do our part,” owner Ken Stryker said.

Jonah Barnes, who’s in the process of buying Sunrise Bakery behind 808 Sunrise Deli, 808 Harney St., said the bakery and deli are teaming up to sell red, white and blue-colored bagels for a suggested donation. All of the proceeds will go to the American Red Cross or Convoy of Hope.

People can purchase the special bagels in the deli from Tuesday through Sept. 8.

“We see many wonderful people, and the TV plays in the deli and they see this terrible news,” Barnes said. “It’s a way for them to help.”

And on Friday afternoon, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington welcomed 11 adoptable dogs from shelters in Southeast Texas to free up space for pets displaced by Harvey. The additional shelter space in Texas will provide those pets with a safe haven and allow them to stay near their owners, according to the Humane Society.

A plane piloted by Wings of Rescue — a California-based nonprofit that regularly transports dogs and cats from overcrowded shelters from around the country — touched down in Hillsboro, Ore., and delivered the dogs to the local Humane Society’s care, a news release said.

The Humane Society of the United States is coordinating efforts to transfer adoptable animals to shelters across the nation, making room to house lost and injured pets in states ravaged by record-breaking rains and flooding.

“We understand the incredible bonds forged between people and their pets, and we’re grateful that our work means that lost pets and those separated by the storms have a better chance of finding their families in Texas during this devastating time,” Stacey Graham, president of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, was quoted as saying in the press release. “We welcome these shelter dogs who awaited adoption in the south, and we’re excited to help them ultimately find homes here.”

The Texas dogs will be available for adoption as soon as they’ve gone through the regular admission process, including medical and behavioral testing. Once they are on the adoption floor — which could be as soon as Tuesday — they will have a sign on their kennels and adoption profiles identifying them as “special guests,” the news release said.

The Humane Society for Southwest Washington is discussing plans to potentially welcome additional shelter pets.

In 2005, the local Humane Society also took in animals from regions hit hardest by Katrina, the news release said.

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To view adoptable dogs, visit https://southwesthumane.org/adopt/dogs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Columbian staff writer