When Hurricane Harvey blew through southern Texas, it forced thousands to flee their homes. Some evacuees were bussed three hours away to Austin’s MetCenter mega-shelter – a centralized location where housing and support services could be provided.
At its peak, the shelter held 400 evacuees – it now plays host to 163 individuals. By the end of the week, all should be able to either return home or to a shelter in closer proximity to it.
Before their send-off, Keller Williams, in close partnership with the Austin Police Department, planned an important excursion for the kids.
As Mike Sheffield, a manager with the Office of Community Liaison unit at the Austin Police Department, explains, “We want to make life just a little easier for these kids whose lives have been turned upside down. While staying at the shelter, they’ve been thrown back into school, and we want to help make this re-entry as simple as possible.”
Assimilating into a new school is hard enough, but even more so for those who left in a panic with only the clothes on their back. To help bring a little piece of comfort and normalcy to their lives, 40 kids – ranging from elementary through high school-aged – joined City of Austin police officers and Keller Williams volunteers for a back-to-school shopping trip. Each child was partnered with a volunteer and given a gift card for $150 to pick out brand-new clothes and shoes: items of their choosing, bought specifically for them so that they can feel confident as they walk into their new classrooms.
“As adults, we forget about the immense pressure to fit in. These clothes will make sure that these kids don’t get teased or bullied because they’re forced to wear the same thing every day,” adds Sheffield.
While this is the first time that the Shop-with-a-Cop event has been held following a disaster, it’s modeled after an annual Christmas gift shopping event held by the Hispanic Police Association in partnership with the Austin Independent School District.
According to Sheffield, the officers always look forward to events like these. They enjoy volunteering their time to engage with the community. “It’s a good all-around feeling on all sides.” These programs also have a long-term effect. When kids have a positive association with law enforcement, they are less likely to get in trouble with the law and more likely to seek help from police when they need it.
Lalaina Rabary, Keller Williams’ Shop-with-a-Cop volunteer organizer, expressed gratitude to those who donated their Mega Camp registration fee when the weeklong annual conference pivoted from a training event to one of service. “It’s thanks to the big hearts and generosity of our associates that we were able to purchase these gift cards, making the event possible and brightening the day of these children.”
A second note of gratitude is extended to Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s office for their role in connecting Keller Williams with this opportunity to serve the youngest of those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
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Words: Robin Jhaveri
Photos: Josh Baker
Video: KW Video