Austin groups rally to support Harvey victims

6:48 p.m Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 Local
Jackson Dugan carries items he is donating to victims of Hurricane Harvey at the Circle C Community Center in South Austin on Monday. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

From collecting toiletries to providing crisis counseling, local nonprofit groups this week are stepping up their Hurricane Harvey relief efforts to meet the needs of an influx of survivors who face a long road to recovery.

“We’re just at the beginning of it all,” said Daniel Geraci, founder and executive director of the Austin Disaster Relief Network.

As of Sunday, the organization’s call center had received more than 500 calls both from evacuees from the Gulf Coast and from people interested in volunteering. The network, which works with more than 175 churches in the Austin area, has sent teams of trained volunteers to area shelters to help with emotional and spiritual care.

“The goal right now is to pull them out of their trauma,” Geraci said. So far, the network has helped more than 100 families affected by flooding.

At its Hope Family Thrift Store (1122 E. 51st St.), donations such as inflatable mattresses, new socks and undergarments are being accepted for evacuees. The network has also distributed gift cards along with items such as toys, coloring books and hygiene kits.

But as the group works on addressing immediate needs, it is also looking to the future. Pairing survivor families with local families in the network’s Disaster Relief Shepherd program will be important to guide evacuees through the recovery process, Geraci said. These volunteers act as liaisons for the families to navigate resources such as FEMA funds.

“Putting people around others with clear minds who can help them out builds resiliency,” Geraci said.

While some organizations have aided Austin-area evacuees, other organizations such as the Salvation Army have deployed local volunteers to the Texas Gulf Coast. On Sunday, a team of volunteers with a fleet of mobile kitchens arrived at a Victoria shelter and served about 750 meals. “This disaster relief will take months and possibly years to get through,” Andrew Kelly, the Salvation Army’s Austin area commander, said in a Facebook video message. “The Salvation Army will be there to provide anything we can from meals, shelter, cleanup kits, emotional and spiritual care, but it will take financial assistance for us because it’ll be very costly.”

For Circle C resident Natalie Kifer, watching some horrific flooding scenes on television all weekend motivated her to help. She’s rallying her neighbors to collect supplies to send to the coastal cities.

“Watching the devastation from Austin, you just feel helpless,” she said. Through a friend, she learned about KWCares, a nonprofit that helps Keller Williams associates and their families who face hardships as a result of an emergency. The KWCares Disaster Response Team will be sending 18-wheelers with supplies as soon as roads to the Gulf Coast are safe.

“As of (Monday) morning, we know 168 Keller Williams associates have so far had their home flood in some degree by the storm,” said Darryl Frost, Keller Williams spokesman. “We’re still assessing and updating these numbers today.”

In the meantime, Kifer was busy Monday collecting everything from tools to diapers for the survivors.

At one of Austin’s biggest catering companies, Royal Fig Catering, a team devised a whirlwind relief effort Sunday night to raise money to purchase supplies needed to cook hot meals for as many coastal residents as they could. Several of their vendors also donated food, which enabled the company to head to Victoria on Monday. Another trip to cook meals for a Houston children’s hospital is in the works, according to owner Kristin Stacy.

“Rebuilding a life and healing comes through comfort, connection and courage,” said YWCA Greater Austin Executive Director Ángela-Jo Touza-Medina. The organization is offering free support group and crisis counseling for Harvey victims.

“Being displaced from your home and possessions, separated from your family and friends, and confronting an uncertain future is difficult,” she said.

Later this week, the Texas Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, the all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, will also lend a hand. Members will fly over the Texas Gulf Coast and take aerial photos of the flooded areas. The photographs can aid the state in everything from assessing the damage to checking areas where rescues might be needed.

“Everyone wants to help,” said Lt. Col. Johanna Oliva Augustine, the Texas Wing’s public information officer. “We’re just doing it in a different way.”

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