Texas Children's steps in when disaster strikes

In August 2017, our community was devastated with catastrophic rainfall-triggered flooding after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. Our families at Texas Children’s were already facing worries about their children in the hospital, and the chaos outside piled on even more troubles. Is my home OK? Will I be able to drive my car? Are my loved ones safe? So many questions loomed over their heads, bringing a sense of helplessness and inability to take action. 

Harvey hit the city quickly with an unprecedented force, pushing our social workers to jump into action and put their capabilities to the ultimate test. Thankfully, identifying community resources, administering support from donors and creating bridges between families and needed assistance during these events make up a large portion of a medical social worker’s role at Texas Children’s. 

Texas Children’s Social Work team was ready to provide patients and their families with what they needed to ride out and eventually recover from the damage caused by the storm. Our first priority was to give discharged families a safe place to lodge, and we were able to secure hotel rooms for those who couldn’t make it home through the generosity of our donors. We also provided patient families with basic needs including clothes, hygiene products and gift cards, alongside assisting them financially with bill payments for cars, mortgages, electricity, etc. 

Marrisa Sanabria was at the 18-week mark of her pregnancy when Harvey made landfall, and her family was immediately impacted when the flooding started. Their house had 2 feet of water inside – almost everything they owned was ruined. Through all of the devastation, Marrissa remained focused on keeping her family safe and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. On Dec. 2, 2017, Marrissa delivered her baby, Gabriela, prematurely at the 30-week mark of her pregnancy. Gabriela remained in the NICU for seven weeks while her social worker assessed the family’s needs and secured support from various organizations that had donated to the Social Work team. 

Ever since Harvey flooded the first floor of their home, the Sanabrias have been living on the second floor on sofa beds and mattresses. Marrissa and her husband have been working incredibly hard to make ends meet for their three children, but, since Gabriela’s birth was so unexpected, they lacked a crib, diapers and so many other essentials required for bringing home a baby. Luckily, they were able to obtain gift cards to help supply those essentials and receive financial aid for their mortgage through our Social Work team. Marrissa said this assistance “took a big load off [their] backs,” as she was able to focus on Gabriela’s health and development, and is glad she was able to lean on her NICU social worker for emotional support and guidance through this difficult period in her life. 

Marrissa recently shared that her home is almost completely remodeled and will be fully functioning very soon. If she could share any advice with families who might experience similar misfortunes, it’s that events like these are often “out of your control, and you just have to move forward.” Even though Harvey’s impact was disruptive, “the love in [their] house is so much stronger.” 

Houston sits along the Texas coastline, and Harvey taught us to recognize the importance behind preparation for future hurricanes and natural disasters. You can find a handful of tips and helpful resources below as you consider this preparation.

City of Houston 311

The main component of the 311 Houston Service Helpline is the three-digit phone number, accessible from within the Houston city limits. From traffic fines and sewer concerns, to pothole problems and neighborhood complaints, Houstonians can call 3-1-1 and speak to one of their highly-trained agents. 

From outside the City of Houston, callers simply dial 713-837-0311. Agents are available 24/7 to answer your calls.

Houston Food Bank

Do you need food? You can call the Houston Food Bank’s helpline at 832-369-9390 or visit their website to learn about different food assistance programs available to you. 

Disaster Assistance Improvement Program

The Disaster Assistance Improvement Program’s (DAIP) mission is to provide disaster survivors with information, support, services, and a means to access and apply for disaster assistance through joint data-sharing efforts between federal, tribal, state, local and private sector partners.

What to pack

Remember, your family’s safety is most important. However, if you have time to pack any belongings, consider compiling the following items:

  • Bedding
  • Clothing
  • Medications
  • Canned, non-perishable foods
  • First aid kit


Shelters can provide you and your loved ones with a safe place to sleep and potentially food, health services, mental/spiritual support and much more. Some shelters are even pet-friendly and willing to accommodate your entire family. 

If you’re interested in finding a shelter, you can get more information from the American Red Cross of Greater Houston (713-526-8300) and the United Way of Greater Houston (2-1-1). 

Houston is just at the start of a long road to recovery following Hurricane Harvey, but our community stands united – Houston Strong. Texas Children’s is dedicated to providing personalized, high-quality care to our patients, even through the most difficult of times, and our social workers are ready to respond to the unique needs of your family. If your child is a patient, you can call 832-824-1570 to locate the social worker assigned to your child’s specialty clinic or inpatient floor. 

Post by:

Elizabeth Adkins, LMSW