Forget clothes. And here’s why you shouldn’t just show up to help Harvey victims.

Michelle Marine of Biloxi helps Gulfport resident Lawrence Ray, whose apartment was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, find clothes for his family in a Gulfport parking lot after in 2005. But most of the clothes were wet from Hurricane Rita, which followed Katrina. Ruined donations is a reason why Texas officials and MEMA recommend people go through disaster relief agencies if they want to help Hurricane Harvey survivors.
Michelle Marine of Biloxi helps Gulfport resident Lawrence Ray, whose apartment was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, find clothes for his family in a Gulfport parking lot after in 2005. But most of the clothes were wet from Hurricane Rita, which followed Katrina. Ruined donations is a reason why Texas officials and MEMA recommend people go through disaster relief agencies if they want to help Hurricane Harvey survivors. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

If you want to help survivors of Hurricane Harvey, don’t drive over thinking you can just pitch in and help. And don’t show up with bags of clothes.

People who show up without a connection to a designated disaster relief group or agency can become a burden to first responders, be denied access by law enforcement or bring donations that won’t be put to the best use.

These are some of the lessons learned on the Mississippi Coast after Hurricane Katrina. And it’s why Texas officials and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency are asking the public to donate their time and money to trusted voluntary agencies and faith-based organizations. Don’t just pack up your car and drive over.

People who show up without coordination through an agency or organization “can create an additional burden for first responders” and find themselves turned away by law enforcement, MEMA officials said in a news release.

Interstate 10, the direct route to Houston from the Mississippi Coast, has been closed near the Texas/Louisiana line because the highway was covered with flood waters.

More help is on the way. But officials want to avoid problems that could be caused by well-intentioned people.

After Hurricane Katrina, for instance, damage on the Mississippi Coast was so bad that the beachfront highway was blocked off. Those who had a legitimate reason to go south of the railroad tracks near the beach had to stop at a makeshift nurse’s station and have a tetanus shot. Others were turned away.

Heavily armed officers in South Mississippi stopped people who were out after curfew.

Even donations of clothes can become a problem that take resources away from more urgent needs, MEMA says. And where to put them becomes a problem.

Truckloads and carloads of clothing brought in after Katrina became “nothing more than dump sites,” one relief worker told the Sun Herald in 2005. Some clothes from piles left on empty lots and on roadsides found new owners, but many became soggy and ruined after rain from Hurricane Rita.

Several Mississippi Coast cities, police and fire departments have received authorization to deliver donations. There’s also the Salvation Army, which is handling donations online and by phone at 1-800-SAL-ARMY. There’s the American Red Cross, reached by phone at 1-800-HELP NOW. Google and Facebook are doubling donations raised on their platforms. There’s many other ways to help.

Another effort is through Operation BBQ Relief, partnering with the City of Gulfport to feed first-responders in Houston.

Operation BBQ Relief, a national nonprofit organization, is a disaster relief group that has served 1.2 million meals disaster-relief meals since May 2011, said Jamie Bates of Gulfport.

One site set up near Victoria, Texas, served 1,600 meals Wednesday, he said.

“That’s just warming up,” said Bates.

“Typically we serve 25,000 to 30,000 meals a day. Our primary mission is to serve first-responders but we will be feeding others as well. We don’t do a serving line. People take plates into their place of business or where it’s needed. It could be a hospital or a police department. Once the operation is going, we can take orders for the next day.”

Operation BBQ Relief volunteers were setting up a location in downtown Houston on Thursday. Island View Casino and Naomi’s Catering have loaned out two smokers and local businesses and residents have donated dozens of Boston butts, large cans of vegetables and other items. Fayard Moving and Warehousing donated a truck and another trip will be made later, Bates said.

Gulfport police and firefighters are scrambling to come up with chargers for iPhones and Androids by 5 p.m. Friday. They want survivors in Rockport, Texas, to be able to call their families. Techs will check the chargers before they are loaded on a truck that will leave at 6 a.m. Tuesday. You can drop off charges at Fire Station #1 (downtown across from City Hall). Six police and two firefighter/paramedics will be helping with disaster relief.

And there’s at least one charitable group with a specific mission. The Texas Diaper Bank collects and distributes diapers for children and adults.

If you want other options for giving, Texas officials and MEME recommend going to the websites of the National Organizations Active in Disaster website or the Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to find “vetted” disaster relief agencies or ways you can help.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

Latest ways to help Hurricane Harvey survivors

Bay St. Louis, Waveland fire departments

Bay St. Louis and Waveland fire departments will accept nonperishable items, water, cleaning supplies, garbage bags, construction tools, diapers and formula. Please, no clothes donations. Drop off items at one of the city stations.

Biloxi School District

The Biloxi School District is adopting the Dickinson Independent School District, home to 12 schools and 11,000 students. Its campuses and staff members’ homes have received significant flooding. Biloxi schools, clubs, teams and organizations have already started various fundraisers, including accepting monetary donations at half-time of the Friday night home football game at BHS stadium. Money raised will be sent to Dickinson through the Biloxi First Disaster Relief Fund. Biloxi Public Schools employees also contribute monthly to the fund. For more details on fundraisers, check out the district’s Facebook page or make tax-deductible donations directly at any Peoples Bank to the Biloxi First Disaster Relief Fund.


The city is collecting supplies to be taken to Houston on a truck and trailer donated by Gollott and Sons Transfer and Storage. Take items to D’Iberville Fire Station #1, 11288 Lamey Bridge Rd., from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Supplies requested: bottled water, garbage bags, plastic/styrofoam cups; latex and leather gloves, plastic eating utensils, safety glasses, paper towels, shovels and rakes, bleach/bleach wipes, filter masks, mops and brooms, industrial-size garbage bags, hand sanitizers/wipes, cleaning buckets, commercial foil wrap and plastic wrap, dish detergent, food service plastic gloves, baby diapers and wipes, Styrofoam “clam shells” for food, baby bottles. Food items: Industrial size cans of fruit and vegetables, large bags of rice, baby food and baby formula.

Gulfport prayer service and offering

The Gulfport Ecumenical Fellowship will host a free communitywide prayer service for Hurricane Harvey recovery at 6 p.m. Sept. 4 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 11322 West Taylor Road, Gulfport. The service, “Hurricane to Hope,” will include prayers for victims and those who help them, and an offering for Salvation Army relief efforts in Rockport, Texas. Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania, part of a group traveling to Rockport on Sept. 5, will speak. Bishop Amos Marshall of Trinity Full Gospel Baptist Church will preach and the Rev. Stephen Kidd, rector of St. Mark’s, will lead the liturgy assisted by pastors and church leaders from area churches. Details: Will Shurley, convener of the Gulfport Ecumenical Fellowship, at 228-864-3143.

Hancock County RSVP

The Hancock County RSVP will accept clean, useable clothing, shoes, pillows, sheets, blankets and towels through September to be then organized and sent to help Harvey relief efforts. Drop off donations at RSVP, 228 Coleman Ave., Suite A-4, Waveland. Details: 467-9073 or 342-6525.

Ocean Springs

The city will collect donations through Sept. 4 at the Ocean Springs Fire Department at 1266 Bienville Blvd. to send to those affected by Harvey. Gary Gollott, a local truck owner/operator, has volunteered to drive the donations to Texas. Common donation items include diapers, baby wipes, bottled water, canned goods and flashlights. City officials ask that no clothing or perishable food items be dropped off for donation. Details: 228-230-1900.

Business sites

Several businesses in South Mississippi are accepting donations by Sept. 7 to be sent to Harvey relief efforts. Suggested donations include water, cleaning supplies, trash bags, rubber gloves, dust masks, liquid laundry detergent, pillows, blankets, towels, socks (adult and children), undergarments (adult and children), first aid kids, basic medicines, dog and cat food, cat litter and litter boxes, diapers, baby formula, shampoo, toilet paper, batteries and flashlights, nonperishable food items, paper products (cups, plates, napkins, utensils), pens and notebooks, school supplies, hand sanitizer, insect repellent, utility knives, manners and store gift cards. Drop-off sites include: Stow Away Boat & RV Storage, 3520 Bienville Blvd., Ocean Springs; Gils Fish Camp, 1024 Legion Lane, Ocean Springs; Jessica Jones Hair Salon, 896 Tee St., Biloxi; Crossfit Port Side, 34 29th St. Unit 1, Gulfport; River Rock Yoga, 2429 W. Commerce St., #C, Ocean Springs; and Paragon Realty, 2434 Pass Road, Suite C, Biloxi.

JaxCoHome flood bucket challenge

Jackson County Home, also known as JaxCoHome, an online magazine, has started a social media campaign, #BucketUP, to encourage residents to participate in a flood bucket challenge. The challenge is to take a video of yourself filling up a 5-gallon bucket with cleaning supplies and make a donation. Then challenge others to do the same. Donations will be accepted through Tuesday, Sept., 5, and then be sent to Beaumont, Texas. Dropoff sites: First United Methodist Church, 2710 Pascagoula St., Pascagoula; Heritage Funeral Home, 9721 Mississippi 63, Moss Point; and Ocean Springs Lumber, 1611 Government St., Ocean Springs.

Hancock County

The Hancock Chamber is accepting large donations to fill up an 18-wheeler by Sept. 13. Drop off large donations to Infinity-AP 2112 Nichols Ave., Waveland. Need pallets of water/nonperishable foods, cases of personal hygiene products, bug spray and bleach, boxes of gently used clothing/bedding, various tools and shovels.