March for Science Houston Gives Back After Harvey

From left: Alejandra Ruley and Elle Church

Late last summer, Houston and coastal Texas were devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The Category 4 hurricane killed 82 people and flooded coastal areas so intensely that more than 100,000 homes were damaged.

The cameras may have left, but Houston continues to struggle to recover from the historically destructive storm. According to the Texas Tribune, as of December 15 nearly 11,300 families were still living in hotel rooms funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and many are losing those hotel rooms fast. Houston’s Mayor is pleading with the federal government for funding not just to rebuild what has been lost but to strengthen the disaster preparedness and resilience of local communities. Studies are now beginning to show that the intensity of the storm was increased by human-caused climate change.

In the face of this chaos and suffering, March for Science Houston stepped up in a big way to support affected students, scientists, and the community at large as recovery efforts began.

Immediately following the Hurricane Harvey, MFS-Houston organizer Elle Church, began a google document to support displaced scientists from in and around the Houston area who were seeking lab space to continue integral research. Spreading the word using #TXSciHelp, Church gathered 300 labs from all over the globe offering up lab space, housing, and supplies for those who needed it. Eventually when Hurricane Irma and Maria spread devastation across Florida and Puerto Rico, this database was extended to scientists affected by those storms as well.

Organizing for Houston’s Youth

AJ Ruley, another MFS-Houston organizer, worked with Church to continue the response to the hurricane. What began as a blood drive grew into an even more ambitious event — a back-to-school STEM supply drive designed to help the students of Houston, many of whom needed basic necessities. The Houston Independent School District was hit very hard, leaving many campuses damaged and flooded. Some school campuses had to close down for the whole year. These were the campuses Ruley and Church decided to focus on.

“While parents place all their efforts and funds towards recovery and rebuilding their homes and lives,” AJ explained, “children may feel isolated, displaced, stressed and worried about their security. A storm of this magnitude puts their safety at risk and we wanted to do something to take their minds off from the traumatic event that had recently taken place.”

“We wanted to do something to take their minds off from the traumatic event that had recently taken place.”

Their event did not disappoint. They collected about 200 science education items to distribute to students impacted by the storm. This included kits on subjects like robot-building, microscopes, volcanoes, chemistry, and biology, as well as a significant number of National Geographic books. These donations were distributed alongside several educational stations for children run by students from the Baylor College of Medicine and Anita Borg Institute.

“It was a wonderful experience for us and our community to feel that everyone was coming together to help one another, and it was a relief for parents to bring their kids and let them be kids for a little while,” recalls AJ.

A Sea of Kindness

Their blood drive, hosted by the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center, received donations from approximately 40 people from all walks of life, including congressional candidate James Cargas. Tables were set up to help people register to vote and Be the Match helped register a number of people to be bone marrow donors. Kinship Care, a transgender- and POC-focused group that guides people through signing up for the Affordable Care Act, provided resources during the blood drive as well.

“In the scheme of things, our drive seems like a grain of sand in a sea of kindness,” says AJ. “The speed with which Houston recovered was a result of a team effort by every citizen that contributed with as much or as little as they had available.”

“I have resided in Houston half of my life. I have learned to love and cherish Houston, and Hurricane Harvey, while heartbreaking and devastating, renewed my respect and appreciation for this city I call home. While I hope we never have to experience anything like this again, I am grateful to have been a small part of these efforts that united our entire city.”