Flood-soaked cardboard boxes of homecoming mums are among the debris lining the sidewalks and street curbs of many houses in the suburban Kingwood neighborhood north of downtown Houston.
Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
A flood-soaked cardboard box with an extravagant homecoming mum reflects new meaning for a longtime Texas tradition.
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 mementos. Texas students spend millions each year on these high school keepsakes varying in size from four inches to a foot in diameter, with price tags of $50 to $300.
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 School are silent. The school is just one of the many damaged by flooding from 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 normally would be placing orders for their own homecoming mums are instead going online to donate to hurricane relief. They plan to wear buttons and custom T-shirts as a replacement for the traditional mum tradition.
The Mums For Harvey hurricane relief fundraising idea came from Crossroads Community Church in rural Anna/Van Alstyne northeast of Dallas.
Pastor Shawn Kemp said he certainly isn’t opposed to the homecoming mum tradition but believes at least a portion of the money families spend on mums can be used to help those who were affected by the hurricane and its massive flooding in Houston and south Texas.
“This is an opportunity to take a beautiful Texas tradition and honor it by giving it new meaning,” Kemp said, noting the importance of students seeing opportunities to sacrifice “in order to meet other Texans’ needs.”
Kemp said he and other Mums for Harvey organizers do not expect students to give up the tradition completely, but perhaps to “scale down” what they would usually do so a portion of that money can be used to help survivors of the hurricane and flooding.
“Some students won’t have a home at all this year,” he said.
Partnering together with the Collin Baptist Association (CBA) Church Network, Crossroads Community Church launched a website which facilitates students to give to hurricane relief through the network’s disaster relief partnerships. In addition to several statewide efforts, CBA Church Network helps support the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board’s SEND Relief initiative financially and by facilitating the sending of volunteer teams to the hurricane-affected area.
Linda Smith of Wylie, Texas, 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,” Smith said. “She has been concerned about the other kids in the high schools in Houston and what is going on in their lives. She wanted her mum money to go to help.”
“This is the most ‘Texas’ a fundraiser has ever been,” said Karin Rankin, who read about Mums for Harvey though a Facebook post. A Brownwood, Texas, native who now lives in Las Cruces, N.M., Rankin said, “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.”
Kemp hopes students from across the state will participate in the 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,” the pastor said. “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.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marc Ira Hooks is associate director of missions for the Dallas-area Collin Baptist Association/Church Network as well as a photographer and former missionary to Eastern Europe.)