More than a month after floodwaters left the area, one Cypress church is still going strong with volunteers from around the city and around the county joining forces.
“It’s the long-term recovery,” said Michael Lehmann, who started Trinity Vineyard Church with his wife Amber in 2004. “We want to make sure that, once people start going back to work and getting back to their normal routines, the people who still need help are not being forgotten.”
Since Harvey, Trinity Vineyard Church on Spring Cypress Road in Cypress has been dedicating about one-third of its space to housing volunteers from out of town who come to Houston to help people restore their flooded homes. Teams go out each morning around 8 a.m. to work, come back to the church for dinners prepared by other volunteers and spend nights on cots in rooms that typically serve as classrooms, Lehmann said. So far, they have visited more than 50 homes.
Trinity Vineyard partners with other Vineyard churches from around the U.S. through an organization called Mercy Response, which was formed in response to Hurricane Katrina. When Mercy Response arrived in Houston, volunteers brought tools, gear, cots and other supplies to get the base camp ready.
Some groups have been as large as 45 people, and Mercy Response officials said they could house up to 120 if necessary. Volunteers have ranged in age from 18 to 86. Most volunteers will come in for a weekend, but others stay for weeks, Lehmann said.
Volunteers have come to Trinity from as far away as Duluth, Minn., and Syracuse, New York. Although it is a Christian church, the volunteers come from across many different religions, including people who do not practice any religion.
“A lot of what we’re doing has just spread by word-of-mouth,” Lehmann said. “People are asking where in Houston they can help that can also provide them with the tools and the organization, and that’s how they’re finding us.”
Curtis Welch, a volunteer who flew into Houston from Tampa, Florida, just nine days after Hurricane Irma, said after three days in Houston he already felt at home.
“It was some of the hardest work I have done in my life but it was a blessing to work alongside each and every one of them,” Welch said. “I have done relief work on many occasions and I have never been more blessed, loved and cared for at any other host site then I was there at Trinity.”
Mercy Response plans to remain in Houston at least through October and possibly longer. One of the biggest challenges moving forward involves identifying the people who still need help but, for a number of reasons, are not able to ask for it themselves, said Charise Sullivan, base camp coordinator with Mercy Response
"The people out there who still have a need at this point are mainly people who are marginalized or on the fringes of society," she said. "People who don't have internet, senior citizens, people who are afraid to say they need help."
Although Mercy Response is still looking for volunteers to join work teams, Shane Sullivan, teams coordinator with Mercy Response, said another big way the community can help involves identifying people in their communities who still need help.
“Look around you, lift your heads up and help us find the people we’ve missed," he said. "Pay attention to your coworkers, the kids your children go to school with, the people you see at the grocery store. The longer they go without help, the more help they will need.”
People interested in volunteering can learn more and fill out an application here.