Houston is collecting donations for Hurricane Florence victims

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The donations trickled in slowly in the early afternoon Saturday at the George R. Brown Convention Center, but Bill Baldwin, wearing a Houston Strong T-shirt, was unfazed. This is just the beginning.

At the request of Mayor Sylvester Turner, Baldwin was helping to spearhead an effort this weekend to collect donations to send to Columbia, South Carolina, for victims of Hurricane Florence. Coincidentally, Turner planned before the storm to travel there this week for a meeting with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The group expects to continue receiving donations between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday. (If interested, drive down Chartres St. and look for the loading ramp sign.)

“It’s emotional because you have the reminder of a year ago,” said Baldwin, a realtor and planning commission member, “but truly, to recover, you have to be able to help someone else.”

It was 1 p.m. Saturday as Baldwin stood on the loading dock at the convention center, which had been a hub for Hurricane Harvey relief. He volunteered here then, along with some of the others now beside him. And he helped create what is today called the Houston Relief Hub, which organized donations and volunteers during Harvey, rallied donations for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and now was spearheading the Florence donation drive.

It rained that morning, and the sky was gray. Baldwin remembered the outpouring of support they had seen from all over after Harvey. Now the people in South Carolina had the same needs as Houstonians, still struggling to recover. The group asked for non-perishable food, cleaning items or, as Baldwin put it, “whatever is in their hearts.” He was encouraged by the stories of those who came to donate, some who grew up in the Carolinas, others affected by Harvey.

Over the next hour, a handful of people arrived. One woman, with bags of supplies and buckets, there to do a blog post. Another, with dog food, there to volunteer. A third, Kelly Dao, brought cases of water. “My house got flooded,” she said. She wanted to give back.

Volunteers stacked the water she brought on long tables, amid the mounting collection of other donations. Among the piles, there were two bags of Purina One cat food. Two boxes of peanut butter chocolate chip Chewy bars. One box of butternut squash soup.

Then there was the visit from Turner, who surveyed supplies, posed for photos and shook hands. (Police Chief Art Acevedo visited earlier in the day.) Turner said Hurricane Harvey, and the help he received at the time from other cities, still felt fresh. For him, the outside support then was a reminder that Houston wasn’t standing alone.

“Now it’s our turn,” he said.

Turner met volunteers such as Robert Swanson, 54, who had moved down three floors after he said his 7th-floor apartment roof gave way during Harvey and soaked his belongings. He was still trying to recover, and fighting an eviction, but wanted to be there to help someone else.

“I know what it’s like,” he told Turner of enduring a hurricane.

“You’re paying it forward,’ Turner said back.