Hurricane Harvey left an everlasting mark on Houston and our surrounding cities. As the storm’s devastation kept KIPPsters away from their classrooms for nearly two weeks, natural disaster relief efforts were underway almost immediately. At KIPP Houston, a Family Emergency Fund, along with campus food and supply pantries were established to help families in need.
At the forefront of these efforts was Cicely Taylor, KIPP Houston Public Schools’ Director of Partnerships. She was responsible for leading the campus food and supply pantries, which opened on September 6 across all KIPP Houston campuses.
“When you read, ‘I’ve lost everything,’ it really hits home for you,” Taylor said. “From reading family intake forms, it really hit home how important it is what we were doing.”
KIPP families affected by Hurricane Harvey were invited to visit the pantries daily and depart with food and household goods which provided temporary relief. Taylor said the pantries served a valuable purpose and that three schools have opted to keep their pantries open for the remainder of the school year to continue to meet families’ needs.
“It was very important to help families retain a sense of humanity and choice because they were in situations where they really didn’t have a whole lot of choice,” she said. “They may have been staying places they would not necessarily have wanted to stay. They were dealing with a circumstance they definitely wouldn’t have chosen to be in.”
Several churches and organizations made donations, and the generosity – both locally and nationally – came in a variety of forms. Dozens of organizations pitched in, including The American Red Cross, Brighter Bites, The Gap, Goldman Sachs, Goode Company, H-E-B, Houston Food Bank, Legacy Funeral Family, and YMCA of Greater Houston. Countless others provided support as well.
While logistics and the coordination of donations were challenging early on, the process of selecting most needed items also proved to be difficult.
“You think if you lost everything you owned, what would be the most important things to have?” Taylor said, noting that food and cleaning supplies were top of list. “It was a challenge handling all the clothing donations.”
Having joined KIPP Houston Public Schools in 2006, Taylor has seen a fair share of tragedies, including death and loss of team members. In those instances, she witnessed similar supportive responses from the community.
“There’s always an outpouring of some kind of response of support,” Taylor said. “I think this was probably on a larger scale given the devastation that Harvey wreaked. This extended beyond just Team and Family. The outpouring of national response from KIPP Foundation, all of our KIPP cousins and different KIPP schools, and random companies and citizens, was amazing.”
The success of the pantries can be summed up by a familiar KIPPism: When a teammate needs help, we give.
“You don’t have to be uber-wealthy to make a difference,” Taylor said. “I’m still in absolute amazement that this happened and we were able to set up these pantries. It helps to deepen my belief that all it takes is a great Team and Family by your side supporting you to make the impossible possible.”