The following letter comes from Skip Redd, president of the Xavier University national alumni association Houston chapter, written on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
I wanted to let people know what I saw and experienced today and to update you on the situation down here in Houston. I went over to the Astrodome today to volunteer with all of the displaced people of New Orleans being housed there. I wish there was a way to properly describe what it is like but there is no way to properly do it justice. The images you see on TV, the stories you hear and read about do not paint a true picture of what it is like. When I finally got in my car to leave, I sat in it and cried for 30 minutes unable to move or even think.
I want to start by saying what an incredible job so many have done in such a short time to put together this massive shelter of sorts. It truly was amazing to see the organization, the friendliness, the love, and the compassion of so many at work. Everything is orderly and clean with all major federal agencies set up for people to meet with during the day and night. In addition, there are free phone banks everywhere for people to use along with computers to access the internet. You have children’s sections, different medical wards for differing illnesses and physical problems, psychological centers, job training and housing help. Also, today, they started distributing debit cards to everyone with, I believe, $1,000 on them. There is adequate food and drinks for all and showers are set up throughout the Astrodome and the adjacent convention halls where people are also housed.
When I parked my car and began walking to sign up at the volunteer center, reality begins to set in as you see so many people walking around the grounds with complete despair written across their faces and you begin to realize that this is now their new home. The home that they have known for probably most, if not all, of their life is gone along with all of their possessions. It is a very sobering and humbling sight to see. Upon signing up at the volunteer center, I was asked to go to one of the medical wards located on the concourse of the second level of the Astrodome to talk with the patients and see if there was anything that I could bring them. When I first walked into the Astrodome I could not believe my eyes. Here was the self-proclaimed “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the place where I saw so many Astros and Oilers games growing up as a kid turned into a giant housing shelter throughout. It was extremely surreal to say the least.
There were people with cots and all of the belongings they had left spread out everywhere—on the Dome floor, in the concourses, on the ramps and walkways, all trying to carve out a little piece of space that they could call home. You had little kids running around the stadium, through the aisles, throwing a ball around just doing what all little kids like to do. People were sleeping on their cots or playing cards or reading or just sitting there with a blank stare on their face as if to say I do not know where to go or what to do. It is a hopeless feeling to see these people. You try to be positive with them and to ask as many as possible how they are doing or just give them a smile or a handshake, but you know that it still does not correct the fact that they have no home anymore and will have to start a completely new life in a new and foreign place to them.
The people are constantly putting up signs all over the dome trying to locate or find relatives that they do not know if they even survived. The people come up to you and ask a million questions, and it is so hard to tell them that you do not have the answers but to be patient and they will get them answered eventually.
There is one story I want to relay to you: When I was heading to my car to leave and drive to the drop-off center to drop off some Lego’s and movies that my goddaughter, Lexi, and her brother, Chance, gave me in Colorado this weekend to give to the children at the Astrodome, I saw a 60-year-old man, pushing a shopping cart with his 4-year-old nephew in it. I asked how he was doing and he said they were doing great, that they had had the best day because they found out that his brother (the father of the boy in the cart), his mom, his son and his four sisters were all alive and on their way to Houston. He told me that they saw him interviewed on “Dateline” and that is how they were able to connect. His name was Bobby and his nephew’s name was Willie, and he thought they all died because they were swept away by the floods from the rooftop of their house. Bobby and Willie survived on the roof for three days before a National Guard boat came by and rescued them. He was not bitter but grateful to be alive and could not have been more positive about starting his new life in Houston. I stood in the parking lot for about an hour talking to him, completely amazed by his attitude and his incredible spirit. So, I took him over to the car and gave Willie all of the Lego’s and movies. He could not have been more excited. I gave Bobby my phone number and told him to call me so I can buy him and his family a hamburger one night, and to see if I could help him find a job. I put my hand out to shake his good-bye and he just leaned over and gave me a big hug. So did Willie. I can’t begin to tell you how sad it made me at that moment to realize how many countless others like Bobby are out there who need help. I want to do more, but I also realize my limitations. It is very frustrating.
Tonight, my good friend Jeff Hill and I were asked by the diocese here to find 250 volunteers. There are so many organizations throughout the city doing so much that it truly warms your heart to see the good in people in times like this. This is not the time for second-guessing or attacking or being negative about how everything has played out. There will be a time to look back to see how things could have been done differently or better, but that time is not now. These people need everyone to be there for them now, to be positive, to give, to help.
I am sure most of you have already helped or given in some way, but I am asking you—no, I am challenging you—to do more. Find ways to raise money or goods, keep these people in your thoughts and prayers and be on the lookout for ways to help. I know it is easy to sit here and say we should be so fortunate for what we have in our lives, but it has new meaning for me after today. Be thankful for all that you have—your home, your belongings, your car, your health, but, above all, for the love of friends and family. Take that feeling and help these people. These people have had everything taken away from them, including friends and family. So, take the time to tell your friends and family how much they mean to you and how much you love them.
I promise you that we will keep doing all that we can down here to help, and I ask that you continue to keep these people in your prayers and to continue to find ways to help no matter how small or insignificant you may think it is. Everything is important and everything is appreciated.
Skip Redd, Class of 1997