UT students, alumni help with Harvey efforts

Lisa Nhan

UT students and alumni are joining the effort to address Hurricane Harvey’s widespread damage to southeast Texas.

Student groups across campus are organizing fundraisers for disaster relief in the areas affected by last month’s storm.

Humanity First, a relief organization, is planning multiple events this semester to help Harvey victims. By posting Snapchat stories and sending direct messages asking friends to Venmo donations, Humanity First raised over $1,500 to buy hygiene kits, according to Rishi Gonuguntla, digital marketing coordinator for Humanity First.

Until Sept. 18, Humanity First will be hosting Headshots for Harvey with 40 Acres Photography, where students pay for professional portraits, pictures and headshots. All proceeds from the event will be going to Humanity First USA Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

Gonuguntla, a biology sophomore, said while small donations may seem ineffective, they can have a large impact.

“With disaster relief, it’s important to note that the work of an average person is critical,” Gonuguntla said. “The effort of an individual can go a long way. It shows that not only are you helping to relieve the disaster, you’re providing a human connection. You’re showing them that they aren’t alone in this disaster.”

This past weekend, UT service organization Texas Blazers volunteered with some of their alumni who coordinated relief programs in central Houston. Working in the neighborhood of one of the Blazers alumni, the current members assisted homeowners whose houses had been flooded.

Biology junior Prem Patel said the Blazers assisted in removing damaged items, such as furniture or carpets, resulting in “piles and piles of discarded belongings.”

“We could have volunteered at a food bank or gathered supplies, but the best part of this experience this weekend was being on the ground floor helping people, right then and there,” Patel said. “To see the relief on their faces firsthand was unlike any other service we’ve done.”

Patel said working alongside alumni was inspirational, because it reminded him that service is something students can carry with them outside of college.

“They’re not even in this organization anymore,” Patel said. “Seeing them go out there, spending their weekend even though they have work and a family, it was important to see that they are still prioritizing service.”

Other UT alumni have been joining in on the Harvey relief efforts, such as Sandra Zhi, who is collecting donations for Houston on behalf of her company, Abilitee Adaptive Wear.

Zhi said her volunteering experiences in college showed her how service can help give her life more purpose.

“UT is really unique in the sense that there are so many different ways to volunteer,” Zhi said. “Making volunteering a part of my college career was really easy … I think anyone on campus can find a way to care about service because there are just so many causes represented on campus.”

Mechanical engineering sophomore Zac Cooper went back home to Houston this weekend to help relief efforts in his grandfather’s neighborhood.

Despite the damage Harvey caused, Cooper said there was still a strong sense of community.

“While we were helping, people would drive through the neighborhood and offer food and drinks pretty constantly throughout the days I was there,” Cooper said. “It made me feel better about humans in general, to see them asking if we needed anything.”