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Big-hearted Houston

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COLD WARMTH When the big freeze hit, Houstonians came together to help each other. (Illustration:

As I write, we are one week out from a winter storm that brought freezing cold, ice, and snow ... and a big mess to Houston.

We are used to being hot, to losing power during hurricanes. But we are not as adept at managing cold. Truth be told, many of us live here so that we don’t have to deal with crazy-low temps. Sitting outside on a recent February day having lunch with friends, we all decided the gorgeous weather was one of the things we loved most about Houston – especially while friends in other states were fighting the cold. That was before the week of Feb. 15, 2021.

It’s been a long year. Someone said the other day that, for the first time he could remember, it was acceptable to respond, “I’m okay,” when asked how you’re doing. No pressure to say, “I’m great,” although “great” is relative in the year we’ve had.

Still, we have a lot to be grateful for. Which is sometimes clearest when things don’t seem to be that great.

Houstonians make that clear every time we face a challenge. When Hurricane Harvey hit, we showed our hearts by rescuing people across town, bringing cold drinks to neighbors, and helping strangers tear out wet sheetrock. “Everyone looks the same when they’re getting rescued by a boat,” we said.

And now, again, Houstonians have stepped up to help neighbors and strangers. With plumbers in scarce supply and pipes bursting at what seemed like every other house, neighbors who were able to took in other neighbors – whole families, plural – when their homes lacked water and power. Our neighbor, who happened to have some handy skills, came to help us figure out a solution to a broken pipe, just as he had with many other friends. He even suggested using his handheld chef’s torch to rig a temporary fix.

And as we worked in our own communities to support one another, some were helping on an even larger scale.

“We were very lucky,” Donna Gershenwald says of her family of four. “We had a pipe burst in the garage, so we did have to shut off the water to the whole house. My husband, who is very handy, went to six stores to find the things he needed. We’re fine; it’s a hassle and an expense. But in terms of suffering and freezing cold, we had a lot of privilege.”

That is why, when Donna read a Facebook post from Angela Furnari, a teacher at Benavidez Elementary, about children in the Gulfton community facing life-threatening conditions – lack of heat, water, food, and blankets – she began acting. 

“We drive around, and it’s like nothing has happened,” Donna says, “but right around the corner, invisible to us, people don’t have food and water, and they can’t go pick it up because they don’t have cars. Plus, during the freeze, the kids had a lot of their meals at the school. Suddenly they didn’t.”

So Donna helped the best way she knew how: She posted the needs on social media.

“My reach is different from Angela’s reach,” she says. “Immediately, tons of people wanted to help. Another friend posted it on her page and set up an Amazon wish list and had everything delivered to her house in West U. When the Amazon driver delivered loads of diapers and food and toiletries to her front yard, he said he’d never had an entire truckload go to one house. And there was so much more. That’s the positive power of social media.”

Cara Adams heads up the nonprofit Texas Relief Warriors and coordinates much of the distribution of those donations with help from some 200 volunteers. “I first posted on Facebook after Harvey and said it was a good time for people to go through their stuff and see what they could donate to people who had flooded,” she says. “It just took off from there.

“When it froze, we knew there were seniors relying on machines to survive. Our first goal was to get generators and heaters to people who depended on them. Then we switched, distributing 100 pallets of water and 33,000 meals” to senior living facilities, individual seniors, and families in the Gulfton community.

“We live in the best city for volunteers and people coming together to help out,” Cara says. “Houston is full of amazing, kind-hearted people.”

That’s never more evident than when our neighbors need help.

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