In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, many affected Houstonians benefitted from heroic actions taken by first responders. A second wave of response occurred in the form of temporary shelters and assistance from various aid organizations. But for those in West Houston living with Harvey’s devastating effects a year later, nonprofits such as West Houston Assistance Ministries (WHAM) fill an important role in continuing to support lives still reeling from the costliest tropical cyclone on record.
“I call us the ‘third responders’,” said Mark Brown, WHAM’s CEO. “There’s still so much needed in terms of rebuilding homes, providing assistance with food and employment and offering mental health support. Even before the disaster, there were a lot of people in crisis in West Houston and in Westchase District. We normally see about 2,500 clients per month, but thanks to Harvey, we’ve seen about 40,000 people in the past year.”
Brown said as third responders, WHAM’s 20 staff members and about 300 active volunteers work to provide rental assistance to prevent eviction and resulting homelessness and to ensure that no one leaves WHAM hungry. Their Client Choice Food Pantry is one of the largest in the region, where clients are provided shopping carts and may select items with volunteer guidance. “Along with the Houston Food Bank, many local restaurants and grocery stores donate fresh items daily, so in addition to non-perishables we offer meat, milk, cheese and fresh produce – it’s really high-quality food.”
Since last October, WHAM distributed more than one million pounds of food to the community and has given more than $620,000 in financial assistance. Brown said WHAM works with apartment communities on rent payments for clients with documented needs. “All of our assistance is evidence-based,” Brown said. “We’re extremely careful about how we steward our resources. That said, our assessment shows that we’re about a million dollars shy of meeting the need – about 5,000
area people who need at least $200 in assistance aren’t getting it. We’re part of the solution, but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.”
Development and donations
Work is another key component to WHAM’s services. Last year, the nonprofit provided employment services to more than 800 clients, assisting with everything from resume building to interview clothing and coaching. They also offer a job training partnership with Houston Community College. “One of the reasons I love sitting on Westchase District’s Advisory Board is because I’m pro-economic development,” Brown said. “I don’t want WHAM to have a dependency model. We’re about helping people to get over their hurdles, to get a job and to get on with their lives.”
One source of revenue for WHAM is its Second Blessing thrift store, which sells clothing, furniture, books and housewares donated from the community. “We don’t buy and sell on consignment; 100 percent of our goods are donated and the profits from the store help fund our work,” Brown said. “It’s been a good promotional tool as well, because many bargain hunters have learned about WHAM from our store.”
The WHAM staff learned about the generosity of the Westchase District community in the days following Harvey. “Companies whom we’d never heard of and didn’t know they knew about us would turn up with truckloads of clothing and diapers to the point where we didn’t know where we would store it all,” he said.
Brown said there’s always room at WHAM for individuals and companies seeking volunteer and teambuilding opportunities. “If you’re looking to give something back to your community and help those who are struggling and in crisis, we have a safe and supportive environment and would welcome your time and talents,” he said. “It can be a powerful, meaningful experience for reconnecting with others.”
West Houston Assistance Ministries
10501 Meadowglen Lane