Central Texas nonprofits provide resources for Hurricane Laura evacuees


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several nonprofits are working in collaboration with the City of Austin’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management to provide resources for coastal evacuees.

The American Red Cross of Central and South Texas and the Austin Disaster Relief Network both have staff staged at area hotels sheltering evacuees. Red Cross officials are conducting COVID-19 screenings for every evacuee and are helping distribute the three meals emergency officials plan to provide each day.

The nonprofit is able to conduct damage assessment thanks to the local Red Cross office in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. Officials will be able to notify evacuees if it is safe to return home. For those who cannot return, the Red Cross will provide aid.

“We’ll see what storm damage is and many people will be able to go home after that, but if they cannot, we will work with the city to figure out a long term plan for those people,” said Marty McKellips, the regional chief executive for the central and south Texas branch of Red Cross.

Typically, Red Cross has about 70% of its staff working in the field while 30% work virtually. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers have flipped, with the majority of the staff working online.

Volunteers with the Austin Disaster Relief Network — a network of churches — are ready to provide emotional support. Volunteers will greet, pray and be there for evacuees who need someone to talk to at the hotels.

“I’ve asked all my employees, 47 of them, to pause from working their normal job and be in the prayer room, praying for our nation,” said Daniel Geraci, the nonprofit’s executive director.

ADRN officials said volunteers at the hotels sheltering evacuees are helping direct evacuees to their rooms and keep track of them. They said this is important because they’re able to provide assistance with clothing needs, PPE and help getting medical prescriptions.

ADRN has set up a donation drive for evacuees. Geraci said in 2017, the nonprofit raised $11 million for Hurricane Harvey evacuees and was able to give out anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000.

The nonprofit has also set up a hotline for those who need some support — 512-806-0800.

At present, providing emotional support to evacuees in person can be a little difficult due to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines.

“It’s been very difficult,” Ann Rainike, a volunteer with the nonprofit explained. “We’ve done some elbow bumps and fist bumps, but that’s really hard for a lot of us because we’re so used to giving that emotional support to people. It’s been challenging because of COVID and having to social distance but it’s very encouraging that we can alleviate some of the stress that they’re in.”

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