Galveston County charitable organizations need more toys than usual this Christmas to help families still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
“There is a great need,” said Chris Delesandri, executive director of United Way Galveston County Mainland. “The devastation is not only for the kids. All the agencies are scraping together for Christmas.”
Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of Galveston County, but in the 72 or so hours that followed, it dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of the area, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding about 20,000 houses in the county.
Many families lost belongings either during the flood or during the mucking.
“Where do they keep the toys at home?” Salvation Army Capt. Jennifer Jones said. “On the floor.”
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The Salvation Army of Galveston County has almost three times as many requests this year for its annual Angel Tree program that provides toys and clothes to children as Christmas presents. The organization had 1,026 requests in 2016; this year it had more than 3,000 requests, Jones said.
More than 820 children in the Angel Tree program were still waiting for someone to choose their card and agree to buy them an outfit, a special toy the child requested and a book for Christmas. The deadline to donate gifts for an Angel Tree child is Monday, but the agency is looking for whatever donations it can get.
“We are worried about a toy shortage this year,” Jones said.
“When we started disaster relief, we included applications for Angel Tree,” Director of Development Holly McDonald said. “We have a lot of people in need.”
Most of the requests came from Dickinson, but residents in other parts of the county also applied for the holiday help, including some in Friendswood, McDonald said.
“We knew recovery was going to be long,” Jones said. “It’s a horrible stress for families at Christmas.”
Interfaith Caring Ministries in League City also has seen a surge in requests for help, grants manager David Watkins said.
“The last couple of months, we’ve been the busiest I’ve ever seen the agency,” Watkins said. “And it hasn’t slowed down.”
Many people going to the agency need help paying utility bills and are getting groceries from the organization’s food bank, he said. They also sign up for a toy giveaway that the agency is having Dec. 12. The agency is looking for toy donations now through Dec. 8, Watkins said.
People whose homes were perfectly fine and dry after Harvey are now out of work because they lost a job to the historic natural disaster or ran a small business that Harvey obliterated.
“They were making ends meet and had savings,” Watkins said. “All of a sudden, they lost a job or a business. They lived off savings for a couple of months.”
In October, the agency helped 60 households in northern Galveston County and 64 in Harris County.
“That’s the busiest month we’ve had in at least five years,” Watkins said.
Jones was at The Salvation Army emergency shelter in La Marque as the first evacuees escaped Harvey’s flood in late August.
“They were bringing people in dump trucks to the shelter,” she said.
A soaking wet family with four children wearing pajamas arrived at the shelter with no shoes because they swam out of their home, Jones said.
“The kids, all they wanted was to have something to hold on to,” she said. Jones only had crayons and coloring books, so that’s she gave them and that’s what they hugged.
A new teddy bear would mean the world to the youngest victims of Harvey, Jones said.
Besides donations and Angel Tree adoptions, the Salvation Army needs help sorting toys and goodies in preparation for the Dec. 16 distribution day.
“I desperately need volunteers,” she said.
Jones also would like some musical groups to play for families during the distribution day, she said.
A lot of Harvey victims are refusing help, Delesandri said.
“They’ve never asked for help in their lives,” he said. “That’s one of the concerns. A lot of people who need help won’t ask for help. I don’t know how you put a number on that.”