Hurricane Harvey: What Houston's Kelvin Sampson is doing to make an actual difference

University of Houston basketball coach Kelvin Sampson has been like a lot of Houston residents since Hurricane Harvey slammed into the city on Friday. He’s attempted to go to the grocery store and found long lines just to enter. He’s had city officials knock on his door and inform him of his water being turned off. And while landlocked in his home, he’s cringed at the searing images on the news of highways underwater, families being rescued by boats and nursing homes flooded.

Streams of texts messages from college basketball coaches around the country provided a backdrop to the cruel reality of the epic flooding in and around Housscrollton. The coaches all delivered a similar message: How can we help? Sampson and his son, Kellen, came up with an idea to challenge coaches across the country to send 20 T-Shirts and 10 pairs of shoes to help clothe displaced and needy people around Houston.

The tweet quickly went viral, as more than 1.5 million people have viewed it and nearly 6,000 re-tweeted it. And in a little over 24 hours they’d received promises of packages coming from more than 450 different schools, businesses and organizations from all of the Lower 48 U.S. states. Kellen Sampson, an assistant coach at Houston, estimates they’ll receive 10,000 T-Shirts and up to 2,000 pairs of shoes. “Words can’t describe how you feel,” Kelvin Sampson told Yahoo by phone on Tuesday. “You feel the outpouring of support and the pride in your fellow coaches and colleagues. It gets a little emotional, to be honest with you.”

The effort from Houston basketball underscores the enduring spirit and camaraderie intertwined throughout the sports world that’s emerged from the devastation in Houston. Sports connections have transcended competition, as the Dallas Cowboys are hosting the Houston Texans, the University of Texas football team is accommodating the displaced Houston football team and TCU has provided Rice University, which is based in Houston, its facilities. Baylor will host the game between Sam Houston State and Richmond on Friday and offer fans impacted by the storm free tickets, parking and a meal for its opener against Liberty. “This all speaks to the brotherhood of football,” said Baylor coach Matt Rhule, “and the power of football.”

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson shouts to his players during a game on March 2, 2017. (AP)

What’s really resonated with Sampson has been the diversity of the outpouring. Blue-blood schools like Duke, Kentucky and UNC have all shipped boxes. But so has UNC Pembroke, where he went to undergraduate school, and Montana Tech, where worked early in his career as an assistant and head coach. The Indiana Pacers donated; as did Oregon State baseball and a dentist in Kansas. Scroll through Sampson’s Twitter feed – maintained by his daughter, Lauren, the behind-the-scenes MVP of this movement – and it’s a kaleidoscope of geographic, hierarchal and sport diversity, an alphabet soup from NAIA to JUCO to DIII. There were emotional donations (Newtown, Conn.), far-flung ones (Ottawa, Canada) and even the delightfully unorthodox (Mike Leach at Washington State, where Sampson once coached). “The spirit that comes out in times of need and times of conflict, you can tell the character of someone in situations like this,” Sampson said. “There’s a lot of good people in this profession, and I’m proud of all of them.”

Kelvin and Kellen Sampson are working with local relief agencies to figure out where to best distribute the clothing and sneakers, as they’ll be inundated with boxes once the postal service begins delivering again. Sampson encourages potential donors to think of items they’d need moving into a new apartment – toothbrushes or underwear, phone cards or silverware and other items like deodorant, soap and shampoo. “We still have a long way to go,” Kelvin Sampson said. “I’m hoping the worst is behind us. There’s still going to be people suffering. As long as there’s one person suffering, we’re going to do everything we can to help.”

The same spirit Sampson found in the basketball community has emerged in the tight-knit football community in Texas. Houston football coach Major Applewhite’s idea to fill the equipment trucks of all of Texas’ 12 FBS schools started with a conversation with his associate athletic director for communications, David Bassity, about potentially filling the team buses with supplies when they return back to Houston. That led to an organic conversation about the availability of football equipment trucks around the state and a realization of how many would be available this weekend. (Only Texas A&M and UTEP are on the road, and Rice’s truck is stuck back in Houston). The response has been strong, with Texas, Texas State and Texas Tech already committed to sending their trucks to help, and Baylor, North Texas, SMU, TCU and UTSA all interested and working through logistical hurdles to help.

The Houston football team is aiming to leave Austin to return home sometime Thursday, although that’s tentative depending on the weather. The hope is to have players help fill the trucks with equipment at locations around Austin on Thursday. Plans haven’t been finalized, as Bassity was seeking Austin locations to host a collection set up via Twitter late Tuesday night. Applewhite also raised the idea of having schools fill up the equipment trucks with supplies in their own cities and drive them down to Houston, with athletic departments spearheading the efforts on campus. “We knew we couldn’t send 50 players to a local shelter this week and have them pull water off a truck,” Applewhite said late Tuesday. “We needed to do something bigger.”

All the Houston coaches interviewed on Tuesday stressed that their efforts can’t be temporary. Once the storm finally ends in Houston and the news cycle spins elsewhere, there’s still years of struggle and difficulty facing the city. Families are displaced. Neighborhoods gutted. There are billions in damages that will impact untold lives. The city will be indelibly changed, which is why the support shown the past few days needs to carry over.

“We’ve seen a great spirit here in Houston [with people] working together to save people’s lives,” said Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek, who has worked at a shelter near his home the past few days. “We’re going to see it to rebuild people’s lives as well.”