Relief funds coming available for those still facing effects of Winter Storm Uri

Winter storm Uri wreaked havoc on utilities across Central Texas, including the Rosenbalm Memorial Fountain, which has yet to return to its normal state. Cole Tompkins | Photographer

By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer

Community recovery efforts have been in full force since last week when Winter Storm Uri wreaked havoc on businesses and residents. City staff, nonprofits and local residents have all pitched in to do their part.

As freezing temperatures caused water leaks and pipes to burst, any 300 people at a time had gone without water last week, Mayor Dillon Meek said.

“What we were able to do is get Coke-a-Cola and Bubba’s 33 to donate water and food, so that if people didn’t have access to water while those repairs were being made, they had that,” Meek said. “That was kind of an urgent need last week.”

Local businesses weren’t spared either. Footage of water damage and flooding at Magnolia Table and Spice Village was posted on Instagram. Meek said property damage is the primary problem right now, as water causes significant damage, not to mention electrical and plumbing problems.

“We’re trying to work through a coordinated effort to ensure that good, solid repairs are being made in our community in a strategic way,” Meek said.

Last Sunday, the Waco Foundation’s board donated a seed gift of $25,000 to launch the local Winter Storm Community Relief Fund. The relief fund is expecting additional funding from local donations.

For the most part, federal and state dollars and private insurers will help the community recover, Natalie Kelinske, director of communications and donor services said. However, the fund is reserved for those who need emergency assistance and don’t have access to those resources.

“The purpose of the fund is really twofold. So one is to help people who need access to kind of basic necessities like groceries, help paying for their electric bills, water, things like that,” Kelinske said. “And then the second piece is to provide home repairs to folks who have emergency repairs that they’re unable to pay for.”

Kelinske said as they complete need survey responses and requests, the relief fund will be distributed as they see fit to pre-selected nonprofit organizations already prepared to provide basic necessities or home repairs. One of the Foundation’s nonprofit partners, Caritas of Waco, provides food, clothing, household items and utility bill aid.

Some Texans have been reporting abnormally high electricity bills after the storm too. According to an NPR interview with Christopher Connelly, KERA News reporter in Ft Worth, he said this was because Texas has a deregulated market for electricity. This allows for variable rates and prices to go up when there is less electricity.

In an emergency open meeting last Sunday, the Public Utility Commission of Texas issued orders to protect citizens suffering from high electricity bills.

The Commission said in the order, “an immediate suspension of disconnections for non-payment until further notice, including ordering utilities not to process disconnections.”

Though Waco is not an electric provider, and has no authority over electricity, Meek said he has written to state-level leadership about reviewing this issue.

“We’re gonna continue to advocate on behalf of our citizens here, and we’ll definitely monitor this,” Meek said.

Kelinske said there is a lot of involvement in relief efforts from nonprofits and city leadership.

“The great thing about our community is the nonprofit network works very well together, and city leadership is super involved.” Kelinske said.

Through social media, nonprofits and their clients, they are getting the word out about this resource, she said. The city staff is also working to address people’s needs by finding them available resources. Since last Sunday night, donations have been steadily coming in, all hours of the day, Kelinske said.

“It’s really evident that the city — the community members — see the need for this,” she said. “And folks who weren’t as heavily impacted are really stepping up and giving to help those who were.”

Now, Meek said, it’s most important that these charitable dollars aren’t wasted, and the foundation will ensure that.

“The reason why I’m excited for Waco Foundation to set up this fund is because a foundation like this is organized to make sure that dollars are distributed to places where they will be used efficiently and effectively,” Meek said. “By Waco Foundation being in charge of these dollars, you know that they’re going to be well spent.”

Anyone who needs assistance is encouraged to fill out a Waco McLennan County Resource Request survey on the fund’s website and issues will be addressed.