In Kingwood, just north of downtown Houston, flood-soaked cardboard boxes filled with discarded waterlogged homecoming mums line the sidewalks and street curbs of nearly every house in this suburban neighborhood. For longer than people can remember how it started, high school students present their homecoming dates with a chrysanthemum (or mum, for short) bedecked with ribbons, glitter and other baubles. Varying in sizes from four inches to a foot in diameter, Texas students spend millions each year on these high school keepsakes.
Usually, these mums are a sure sign that high school football season is in full swing. But this year, the once-bustling hallways of Kingwood High will be silent. The school is just one of the many damaged by the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey. It is doubtful it will reopen its doors this academic year; nine months or more of repair and rebuilding are in its future. Three hundred miles to the north, students who would normally be placing orders for their own homecoming mums are instead going online to donate to hurricane relief rather than have a mum of their own. Instead, they are wearing buttons and custom t-shirts as a replacement for the traditional flower bedecked with ribbons, glitter, and other sparkly decorations.
The Mums For Harvey hurricane relief fundraising idea came from Crossroads Community Church in Anna/ Van Alstyne, a rural suburb of northeast Dallas. Pastor Shawn Kemp said while he is certainly not opposed to the tradition of homecoming mums, he does think at least a portion of the money families spend on mums can be used to help those who were affected by the storm. “This is an opportunity to take a beautiful Texas tradition and honor it by giving it new meaning. We want our students to realize it is important for them to make small sacrifices in order to meet other Texans’ needs,” Kemp said. He added that he and other organizers do not expect students to give up the tradition completely, but to maybe “scale down” what they would usually do so a portion of that money can be used to help victims of the hurricane and flood. “Some students won’t have a home at all this year,” he added.
Partnering together with the Collin Baptist Association (CBA) Church Network, the church launched a website which facilitates students to give to hurricane relief through the Network’s disaster relief partnerships. In addition to supporting several statewide efforts, CBA Church Network helps to support the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board’s SEND Relief program financially, and by facilitating the sending of volunteer teams to the hurricane-affected area.
“This is the most Texas a fundraiser has ever been,” said Karin Rankin, who read about the effort though a post on Facebook. Rankin is a Brownwood, Texas native who now lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. “The first time I realized it was just a Texas thing was when we moved out of state in my junior year of high school.”
Wylie’s Linda Smith made her donation to Mums For Harvey when her granddaughter Jenna, a Junior at Wylie High School, told her it was something they should do. So, she made two donations, one for Jenna and another for her to give to a friend. “It really hit with the conversations that Jenna and I have been having,” said Smith. “She has been concerned about the other kids in the highs schools in Houston, and what is going on in their lives. She wanted her mum money to go to help.”
Kemp hopes students from across the state will participate in this unique opportunity to take an old tradition and give it a new twist. “This is a chance for Texans to show the rest of the country how we respond when other people in our state are hurting,” said Kemp. “We take care of our own. And that sense of caring extends to our teenagers as well.”
Added Smith, “It is a fun tradition, but there are a lot of better ways to spend that money. I give my granddaughter credit for recognizing that.”