By Sahar Chmais
DRIPPING SPRINGS – After hearing stories of mothers feeding their children gummy bears for lunch, seeing shelves emptied out and cars getting stuck in ditches, Monica Willis could not rest. She felt an overwhelming urge to help out her community but did not know how.
“I woke up at 1 a.m. frantic,” said Willis, a working mother in Dripping Springs, “my heart was in my toes wondering what can I do — I have to do something. It was like a burning urgency to help this community. I reached out to my friends that love the community and their children. I knew they would help me figure it out.”
In less than 24 hours, the three women, Willis, Stefanie Reinold and Catharine Layton, formed a Facebook page called Dripping Springs Relief. In a two-day span, the page had over 1,000 members. While the storm settled over a week ago, people continue to use the page in search of help.
Dripping Springs Relief helped connect an entire community in need of help, from those who needed it to those who were giving the aid. Some were already doing these efforts, but now had an added way to spread the word, and some found refuge in neighbors who could lend water and food.
“People within 30 minutes were getting their help,” Willis said proudly. “I could not put my phone down. For example, we had a 70-year-old woman who was running out of wood for heat, and in 45 minutes somebody was at her door with the pile of wood. It was our community out doing this. I am absolutely touched and moved by how people were helping.”
In conjunction to this, other businesses, groups and churches were securing safety for Dripping Springs residents. According to Willis, the Jeep Club was out pulling people’s vehicles out of ditches or getting them unstuck.
The Dripping Springs Presbyterian Church opened its doors for a food exchange, provided water and more items such as toilet paper. This church even handed out gift cards to grocery stores to those who were economically impacted. These services proved to be necessary enough to become an ongoing effort.
“We will be expanding the effort, to have a certain amount of pantry items, for people in need,” said the church’s pastor, Mitch Kolls. “It’s still going right now; especially because people are struggling to get their wells fixed, so we are still distributing water and will continue to distribute meat on Thursdays.”
Food and water donations from the church will be available during the church’s operating hours.
Other businesses were also instrumental in getting out the help.
When COVID-19 hit, breweries were the first to step up; they shifted gears and began manufacturing hand sanitizers, which many donated to first responders. Once again, breweries came to the rescue.
Twisted X Brewing Company began supplying residents with warm meals on Saturday, Feb. 20, feeding nearly 500 residents, using the help of other businesses as well. They took meals to first responders and line workers and delivered meals to the churches.
Once their feeding efforts stopped, they began providing water to residents. Many Dripping Springs homes depend on water from wells, but the freezing temperatures broke water pumps and ruined the well equipment. Twisted X along with other breweries and distilleries in the area began to distribute water.
“Right now we are opening up our water supply for anyone in need,” Hunter Stewart, CEO of Twisted X spoke of their ongoing efforts to give aid.
Another business that offered a water service, although in a different manner, was Salon Mystique. Many residents were left without running water for nearly a week. This salon decided to help in whichever way they could.
On Thursday, Feb. 18, the salon opened its doors for people who needed to wash their hair. They began washing people’s hair and giving them blowouts free of charge. In a span of two days, the salon washed over 60 heads.
They also have a café in their salon, so they also did a food distribution. This idea came from the salon’s co-owners, Michael and Misty Uzuanis.
The couple owns a 4×4 vehicle. When they would see a resident announce on Facebook that they need to wash their hair but cannot drive anywhere, the couple would pick them up and bring them to the salon.
Salon Mystique is now offering help to residents by giving them water.
“If anybody has no water in their house,” Michael Uzuanis said, “they can come with containers and fill up on water.”
While many people have been able to resume some type of normalcy after storm Uri’s passing, many are finding their way to recovery. Willis said she continues to see members trickling into the group who are in need of financial assistance to pay for rent, some still in need of water and many looking for help to get their homes fixed.
“For me, it has been amazing to be able to connect people,” Willis said. “I want to see how we can continue to connect people. If we are [in a situation]like this again, it would be simple to get everything people need.”