In the wake of a historic winter storm that pummeled Texas communities and left many people without power, water and other essentials, CASA of Travis County was able to swiftly mobilize their Austin-area volunteers and community partners to provide essential supplies to children and families suffering from cold, hunger and thirst.
According to CASA of Travis County’s February Monthly Update, between Thursday, Feb. 18 and Sunday, Feb. 21, the coordinated group secured and delivered more than 20,000 cans and bottles of water to hundreds of children and families who are clients of CASA and seven other youth-serving organizations.
How does a volunteer-based group coordinate a large-scale, community-wide effort without reliable power or internet access? We spoke with CASA of Travis County CEO Laura Wolf about how they made it all happen.
The storm hit the night of Sunday, Feb. 14, and that Monday was pretty quiet, as the majority of CASA of Travis County’s staff lost electricity and internet access. But by Tuesday and Wednesday, Laura said, staff and volunteers started getting direct outreach from children and families about needing water and ways to keep warm. As luck would have it, a CASA staff member had been working remotely from Montana—which meant she had reliable power and internet access and she was able keep a spreadsheet to track needs and start coordinating volunteers.
“We sent out an email on Thursday the 18th to all of our volunteers, first checking on them, then asking them to let us know if they had bandwidth or ability to help us meet the needs that we were starting to hear,” Laura explained. “Within a few hours, we had more offers to help from volunteers than we had needs identified from kids and families!”
CASA learned that six children were stuck at the CPS offices for the entire week of the storm because there was nowhere else to place them. They didn’t have ready access to water or food, but CASA found a way to get it to them.
One CASA volunteer drove across town in the peak of the storm to deliver portable heaters to a family. Others delivered water, food and supplies. Once it became clear that water was going to become a big issue, Laura emailed the CASA of Travis County board asking if anyone had connections to water, and two board members responded within a couple of hours.
One board member had already been researching water for their own employees and was able to coordinate delivery to CASA first, so that CASA staff could immediately take that water to families and a residential treatment center in town that had lost water. The other board member connected CASA with a citywide effort organized by Richards Rainwater that, at the time, was distributing water primarily to hospitals. Laura reached out to their CEO to share that other groups also needed water, including seven local youth-serving organizations – and secured water donations.
On Sunday, Feb. 21, CASA of Travis County set up multiple hubs around town that were run by CASA volunteers and staff, and distributed more than 100 cases of water and other needed supplies.
“CASA volunteers and staff who put their own things on hold while they focused on the needs of the kids that they’re serving… that was really powerful,” Laura said. “They were focused on: what do the kids need, and what do the families need? It was really inspiring.”
Another beautiful aspect of this effort, she explained, was that it wasn’t just about CASA or the children CASA serves; it was about helping the whole community.
“We focus a lot of energy on being part of the CASA network, and I think that’s really important, but being part of a community network is what made this all happen,” Laura said.
Photos courtesy of CASA of Travis County’s Facebook page.