Hurricane Harvey

Not in the party spirit: How do you set the right tone for a get-together in the wake of Harvey?

Not in the party spirit: How do you set right tone in wake of Harvey?

looking miserable at party
How do you stage something more tasteful and understated — and respectful of those now suffering — without making it so subdued that people are bored after 10 minutes? iStock

Last Saturday night, residents of our Houston subdivision threw a party. The purpose was to raise money for victims of Hurricane Harvey. At last count the amount was close to $13,000. Impressive, especially since it came together in just a few days.

My wife, Cathy, and I like a good party. In fact, as high school reunion planners for the past 22 years, we pretty much throw parties for a living. We've handled more than 500. And when we're invited to party, we usually go. We like the idea of someone else doing the work.

For this party, the "epicenter" happened to be directly in front of our house. So all we had to do was walk out the front door and we would have been there.

We agree wholeheartedly that the cause was a good one, with all of the proceeds going to the Greater Houston Community Foundation set up by Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Ed Emmett to provide storm relief. And we appreciate the generous efforts of Briargrove neighbors and residents who volunteered to help post-Harvey in a variety of ways.

But we didn't go to the party. We stayed home. Neither the timing, nor the "optics," seemed right.

Thousands of people are wading through bacteria-laden water in their homes, trying to salvage what they can, and our neighbors are having a party featuring "six kegs of beer" and live music? No doubt the food, which was donated by two upscale eateries in the area, was tasty. But it occurred to us that many victims of Harvey would struggle to pay for a nice dinner for four at either restaurant.

As the party went on, we knew we made the right decision. We might now be viewed as the Colin Kaepernicks of our neighborhood, but that's okay.

Two big-screen TVs were showing college football. Meanwhile, on our TV was a map of a part of the city under a mandatory evacuation.

A boat was brought into the middle of the party action, the same boat that earlier in the week held two jet skis used to aid in the rescue of stranded storm victims. But for the soiree it served as the stage for a keyboardist whose synthesized music entertained the attendees for nearly three hours. The expression "over-the-top" comes to mind.

We also had a personal reason for not attending: We know all too well the damage and heartache a storm can bring.

In 2008, the day after Hurricane Ike, Cathy became violently ill with an intestinal viral infection likely caused by contaminated water she drank at a restaurant. She lost a pound a day for 15 days, and was hospitalized for eight days. So we were just grateful to get through the storm unscathed. Of course it helped that Briargrove, for technical reasons I probably could never understand, has a long history of not flooding.   

So how do you have the right tone for a get-together in the wake of such a devastating storm? How do you stage something more tasteful and understated — and respectful of those now suffering — without making it so subdued that people are bored after 10 minutes? The residents of Sienna Plantation in Fort Bend County have a handle on it.

Monday afternoon they gathered to raise money for 90 families of the subdivision whose homes were damaged either by flooding or a tornado spawned by Harvey. A barbecue restaurant donated side dishes, but most everything else was provided by residents. A "drive-thru lane" was set up for those who wanted to drop off a check. No big-screen TVs, no musical performer perched on a boat and, shocking as it sounds, no alcohol.

All told, the group is more than halfway toward its goal of $40,000.

"People just needed to see their neighbors and give them a hug," said Mike Pede, head of the University of Houston Alumni Organization and one of the event organizers. "We wanted those affected to see that we care about them and are here to help."

Now that's the spirit.

Jay Frank, a former media columnist for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post, is a freelance writer.