Behind the student-organized Harvey relief efforts

SGA, TUVAC, Greek Council and more aid hurricane response initiatives

Hurricane Harvey impacted the homes and families of many students, about half of whom come from Texas cities along the coastline and in the path of the storm. Students, staff and faculty have found multiple ways to contribute to the ongoing disaster relief efforts despite San Antonio’s apparent distance from these areas.

One organization, the Trinity University Volunteer Action Committee (TUVAC), has partnered with both the Student Government Association, or SGA, and Greek Council. TUVAC is dedicated to helping students find volunteer opportunities based on what they’re passionate about and what best fits their interests.

Scott Brown, the assistant director for experiential learning, works primarily with TUVAC and reached out to multiple advisers last Monday, Aug. 28, to create a game plan for the weeks to come.

“We knew a lot of students wanted to help, and we wanted to make sure we weren’t duplicating efforts in finding the best strategy to move forward. We needed to send out a cohesive message of what our students and the Trinity community were going to do,” Brown said.

TUVAC worked with SGA and Greek Council for many of the main efforts led this past week. SGA senators had the idea to bus a team of Trinity volunteers to help at the San Antonio Food Bank last Tuesday, Aug. 29. Since going off campus might have been inconvenient for some students, a food and donation drive was held as well — the supplies gathered will be delivered to Houston by a student. SGA Senators and Greek Council Executive Board members set up a donation table in Mabee Dining Hall last week; students were invited to buy goods from the nearby POD for donation to the relief efforts.

Organizations like TUVAC and SGA planned these events far in advance, coming up with ideas even the Thursday before the storm hit. Camila Londoño, a senior business major, has been the logistics coordinator for TUVAC since the 2017 spring semester. She spoke of the degree to which planning efforts for disasters like Hurricane Harvey differ from any regular service events. Before the hurricane even hit, Nick Santulli, president of SGA, reached out to TUVAC about preparing for what would happen.

“It was really hard to plan out. Campus gives us a bunch of resources but we have to schedule things way in advance. Most of our efforts were about what we could do right now. When it comes to immediate calls like this, we thought more about what we could do internally,” Londoño said.

Many of the efforts were also student-led. One junior communication major, Emme Bettes, is from Rockport, Texas, which is one of the areas most severely damaged by Harvey. When Bettes watched the live feed of the storm hitting Rockport, she couldn’t believe what was happening.

“Our downtown strip is gone,” Bettes said. “The way that our community functions to provide for tourists and make it an engaging town has been significantly damaged. It’s going to take months for repair.”

A mandatory evacuation was called for Rockport on Thursday, Aug. 24, and many of Bettes’ friends have not returned to Rockport yet to see the extent of the damage. Bettes collected supplies this past week from alumni, staff and students, and will return to Rockport to distribute them to first responders and anyone in need.

“I’m primarily taking baby wipes, socks, underwear, t-shirts, and power bars for first responders to eat. Tomorrow or early Friday, I will be meeting with a Texas Department of Public Safety officer and we will be handing out these items at either the chamber of commerce or our emergency response center,” Bettes said.

Bette stressed that while major cities such as Houston deserve the attention and aid that they’re receiving, it is also important that small towns such as Rockport are not left behind.

“I want to urge people to keep even the small towns in your prayers. Everyone needs help, and no one deserves to be excluded during this time,” Bettes said.

Support and aid in this time has been coming from every direction at Trinity. All three interviewees agreed that the damage will be long-term — recovery is far from over.

“One of my friends said that they feel so helpless being here and not with their parents, so if they want to help they should come to us and we’ll come up with an event, even if it’s later in the semester to keep helping,” Londoño said.

“We’re trying to find ways to get students plugged into service events depending on their interests and how they can make the biggest impact. Trinity’s core values of impact and community, I feel like they’ve really embodied those values, especially this week,” Brown said.