After Hurricane Harvey: 30 Hours in Houston

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After Hurricane Harvey passed through Houston, TX, we came up with a plan to help. GoodRx would go to Houston, volunteer at a shelter, and pay 100% of the cost of prescriptions and basic necessities for as many people in need as we could reach.

Diana, one of the GoodRx employees who went to help in Houston, wrote an amazing account of the time spent in Texas. You can also read (and find more pictures of Team GoodRx in action) on her blog here.

Wednesday, August 30:

It’s the afternoon of Wednesday, August 30 and Doug, GoodRx’s co-founder, approaches me with an idea: how would I like to organize a trip to Houston so that GoodRx could help with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts over the long weekend?

“Yes,” I reply, not knowing what it is I have just agreed to do.

Thursday, August 31 – Saturday, September 2:

Over the course of 3 days, I quickly plug into my network of family, friends and possible contacts in the Houston area. I pour over updates online to find out what I can about local infrastructure—is it safe for us to fly in? are businesses open? will we be able to get around once we land? can we find a place to stay?—and ask for introductions to anyone who can link me to people and organizations that the GoodRx team can assist without causing harm or getting in the way of trained professionals.

Business school friends and classmates who I haven’t spoken to in years respond to my request immediately. They are the first to direct me to local resources and share their contacts with me. I am both amazed and not surprised at how quickly these people are offering their help and contacts. This is the epitome of the pay it forward spirit that I experienced at school.

Leads begin to pour in and I learn about the major shelters that are set up (GRB and NRG) and what their volunteer needs are. At the same time, I’m texting friends of friends who are nurses to find out how patients with prescriptions are getting their medicine. I’m calling pharmacists and grocery stores to see if their pharmacies have reopened. I’m reading as much as possible to find out which hard-hit areas we’ll be able to reach and offer our help.

All these inputs are confirming what I suspected: that I can create a basic plan for Team GoodRx but the specifics will come to fruition only after we arrive in Houston. Even then, I’m counting on my colleagues to remain flexible since there’s no telling what type of response we’ll encounter when we offer to pay for people’s prescriptions, groceries and basic necessities.

Sunday, September 3:

6:00AM: Depart Los Angeles with a quick layover in Phoenix.

1:47PM: Arrive at in Houston.

2:30PM: Pick up keys from my friend Maria’s apartment. She’s out of town for the weekend and has graciously offered her place for us to stay while we’re in town to help with relief efforts.

3:30PM: Arrive at NRG shelter. We check into the volunteer area and await our work assignments. My colleagues and I have signed up for the evening shift, 4:00PM to 12:00AM.

4:00PM: My colleagues and I are assigned to work at the shelter’s department store. This area is where shelter guests (those who have been evacuated) can pick up donated clothes, toiletries and other goods to use during their stay. Guests are also given a sleeping cot and/or inflatable bed with pillows and blankets.

8:00PM: Dinner break. In the back of my mind, I’m still formulating plans for tomorrow so I take this opportunity to chat with local volunteers. I ask them the same questions I asked my friends when I started planning this trip a few days ago. What I didn’t expect to see was the delight that came from Houstonians after we told them Team GoodRx flew in from Los Angeles with the sole purpose to help hurricane relief efforts. Soon word got around and other volunteers approach us throughout the night to thank us for coming out to help.

After dinner, I’m curious to see the rest of the shelter so I take the long way back to my post.

Here’s what I see in the main large hall:

Outside of the main hall are:

At this point, guests are settling in for the night so I make my way back to the department store. There’s still much sorting and organizing to be done to make way for more donations and the next day’s flow of guest traffic.

Near midnight, we learn that only eight of the fifty volunteers who signed up for the late-night shift (12:00AM to 7:00AM) showed up. Shelter staff are asking people to stay longer if at all possible. Since we’re there to help, my colleagues and I agree to stay until 5:00AM, when the city’s curfew is lifted.

5:00AM: Shift is finished and we are exhausted! We request an Uber and head back to my friend’s place to get some rest. All Uber rides leaving the shelter are free.

6:00AM: I finally get into bed and fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow.

Monday, September 4:

9:30AM: Wake up and review the rough game plan for the day.

10:00AM: Meet another friend at the Breakfast Klub, a local spot known for their chicken and waffles. Jon lives in Houston and has been so helpful from the start. He even put together a list of local shelters and resources when he learned GoodRx was heading Houston.

The Breakfast Klub looks busy. The restaurant is full and there’s a line forming out the door. As we step into the queue, we speak to an employee whose house got flooded. She’s grateful that she can get back to work and is delighted to learn about how we plan to help people that day. After breakfast and feeling sufficiently full, Team GoodRx heads out to Southwest Houston, a working-class area that was in the path of Hurricane Harvey.

11:30AM until sunset: It’s time to surprise and delight Southwest Houstonians. (Confession: This was the least organized part of my plan. Spoiler alert: Even so, I knew this would be my favorite part of the trip.)

After breakfast, we requested an Uber and set the destination to the first grocery store in Southwest Houston we could think of. My “plan” was to literally show up and ask the store if GoodRx could pay for people’s prescriptions and groceries.

The first store we arrived at had no electricity. Patrons were standing around the entrance outside while cars were lined up towards the exit. Since there was nothing we could do here, we hopped back into the Uber car and drove to another store nearby.

Kroger supermarket on Kirby Drive was the second stop for GoodRx. The store setup was ideal: the pharmacy was located adjacent to checkout lines at the front of the store. We could catch people moving through both areas!

To test the waters, we approached the pharmacy area first and spoke to Adrian, the Pharmacy Manager. I explained what we wanted to do there—step in and pay for people’s drugs and food with no other agenda. He caught on immediately and was receptive to our idea. In fact, he even knew a patient who had left the pharmacy empty handed earlier that morning because he could not afford to pay for his prescriptions. Excitedly, he called that patient and asked him to return to the store because he had a really nice surprise for him.

Once we saw how smooth things were going at the pharmacy—and how overjoyed the patients were by GoodRx’s random act of kindness—we moved over to the checkout lines. It was time to pay for people’s groceries! Adrian introduced us to Cecelia, the store manager, who then acquainted us with the cashiers who were excited to be part of GoodRxHelps in Houston.

We helped countless people pay for their groceries and prescriptions that day. The one that stood out to me the most was an elderly woman who relied on an oxygen tank. As she approached the cash register, a couple of the cashiers and I engaged her in a conversation. We saw that she placed lots of fresh food, produce and spices on the conveyer belt—this woman likely cooks well—so we jokingly asked her what time we should all come over for dinner. By this time, I had developed rapport with the cashiers and all it took was mutual eye contact to signal the transaction would happen.

After she punched in her Krogers Plus Card number, I stepped up and asked if GoodRx could help pay for her groceries. Obviously taken by surprised, it took a moment for this woman to take in what was happening around her. As she registered my question, she speechlessly nodded her head as her emotions washed over her. The cashier nearest her gave her a hug as GoodRx paid for her groceries. Then the woman came over and gave me a long warm hug as she whispered a heartfelt, “Thank you for your help.” Coming out of her embrace, I couldn’t help but tear up myself and notice nearby employees also wipe tears away from their eyes as well.

The rest of the day consisted of us trying to pay it forward at other grocery stores and pharmacies. Unfortunately, no other place received us as openly as this Kroger store on Kirby Drive. Some places we tried were closed while others turned us away. In the end, it doesn’t matter that Team GoodRx was turned away. From my perspective, we still achieved what we set out to achieve with GoodRxHelps: to help Americans in need.

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