JJ Watt Provides One-Year Update on Hurricane Harvey Fundraiser

On August 26, 2017, Hurricane Harvey blew through Houston and the surrounding areas to become the most costly hurricane in American history, both in lives and livelihoods. It killed 88 people and caused nearly $200 billion worth of property and economic damage.

In the aftermath, J.J. Watt, a player on the Houston Texans team, saw the intense need in his adopted hometown immediately. By September 1, 2017, he had put up a fundraiser on the site Youcaring (now absorbed by GoFundMe) with an initial goal of $200,000 dollars.

“Hurricane Harvey has taken a catastrophic toll on our great city, while leaving many stranded and in need of assistance. We must come together and collectively help rebuild the aspects of our community members lives that were damaged or lost. Any donation that you can spare, no matter how large or small, is greatly appreciated. We will come out of this stronger than ever. We are Texans,” wrote Watt in the fundraiser’s initial pitch, which was accompanied by a video of the athlete making a heartfelt plea.

Within three weeks, more than 200,000 individual donors had amassed a donation of over $37 million.

On August 27, 2018, one year after Harvey, Watt, who had promised transparency to his donors, posted an update detailing the reach of the donated funds. Managed by Watt’s charity foundation, the Justin J. Watt Foundation, the money grew over the next year to more than $4.1 million, and was put to use rebuilding more than 600 homes and supporting Houston Food Bank and Feeding America, who together served over 26 million meals to those displaced and put in need by the hurricane. It also supported the rebuilding of 420 childcare centers to serve over 16,000 children, and got medicine to more than 10,000 patients in need.

The fund is not exhausted, either. The Foundation intends to continue building homes and assisting Houstonians with medical and food needs as long as they can, alongside nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club.


Allstate Donates Books to Schools Hit by Hurricane Harvey

Before Hurricane Harvey, it had been 12 years since a major hurricane made landfall in the United States, the last of which being Katrina and Wilma in 2005. Within a four-day span, Hurricane Harvey pounded eastern Texas with as much as 40 inches of rain, which caused major flooding before it dissipated on September 2, 2017. Thousands of homes and businesses and dozens of schools were destroyed by the elements.

Nearly a year later, some of those schools are being rebuilt. In the Houston Independent School District (HISD), which is the largest school district in Texas, four elementary schools were hit the hardest: Braeburn, Hilliard, Mitchell, and Scarborough. They lost everything, including their entire library collections.

The Allstate Foundation, the philanthropic branch of the insurance giant by the same name, announced commitments immediately after Harvey to help Houston rebuild its schools. On July 3, 2018, the foundation donated $400,000 to help replenish those school libraries, as part of their “Rebuilding Our Readers” campaign.

Friday, July 6, Allstate leaders will bring the donation in-person to the new building of Scarborough Elementary School, which was relocated.

“We’re committed to helping Texas communities recover from this disaster, which is why we’re honored to be a part of this effort to replenish Houston ISD libraries with new books to replace those lost during Harvey,” said Larry Sedillo during a tour of the school. Sedillo is the Field Senior Vice President of Allstate in Texas.

Since the hurricane, companies across the nation have donated over $72 million to relief efforts for Houston and other areas in need of restoration. Estimates for the total economic losses amount to between $81 and $125 billion, the higher of which puts Harvey on par with Katrina. In response to the outstanding nature of the damage, the name Harvey has been retired from the list of names for rotating storms.


As Houston Recovers from Harvey, Don’t Forget About Rockport

The whole world is hearing about Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but Rockport, Texas, the city where the eye of the storm actually struck shore, tends to be referred to as a footnote. And that has only intensified after Irma’s damaging sweep across Florida.

But Rockport’s need is no less. A small city of about 10,000 people, Rockport lost its high school, several hotels, and whole neighborhoods, not to mention all of the local marinas. Recovery is expected to take years, and the town will never be the same.

Bill Thomas isn’t a local. He describes himself as a “frequent visitor.” But he saw a need in Rockport, and traveled there immediately after the storm.

Thomas is in distribution, and he put that career-gained knowledge to work immediately. A local business owner lent him an empty warehouse that was still standing, and he immediately launched a donation center.

Many of the donations coming into Rockport from across the country had no place to go, and it broke his heart to see pallets of baby food and paper goods that had to be thrown out from being left out in the elements. His warehouse gave everybody a place to bring those donations, a place he called Aransas County Harvey Donaton Center.

In less than a week, community members and strangers alike had donated nearly $10,000 to cover the center’s costs. A local business donated nearly 200 mattresses and pillows. Bayer Motor Company ran a fundraising drive among its employees.

“That’s what Texas is about,” said Bayer’s CEO Lucy Larose. “You just come together and you put aside your differences and you put aside what might be bothering you and you feel in your heart just that need to help out.”

Everything in Thomas’s Donation center is being given away free to anyone who needs it, and nearly everyone who has come for supplies has stopped a while to volunteer themselves.


J.J. Watt Raises More Than $27 Million for Hurricane Harvey Victims

J.J. Watt is 28 years old and at the peak of his football career as the Houston Texan’s star defender. And he’s here to help.

When he opened a Houston Flood Relief Fund on YouCaring on Sunday, August 27th, his initial goal of $200,000 was met and passed in a matter of hours, with donations coming from his teammates and fans. Soon enough, he raised $5 million, then $10 million, then $20 million. He rejoiced at hitting each new landmark.

“Absolutely incredible. The most difficult times bring out the best in humanity,” Watt said on Twitter at the $10 million mark.

By Wednesday, August 30, over 180,000 individual donors had raised that total to $27 million, which will go a long way to help the 50,000 people displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Most donations have been what individuals could afford, averaging around the $20 mark, but a growing handful of celebrities have written checks with a lot of zeros. Ellen Degeneres engineered a million dollar donation from Walmart. Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show donated another million, and promoted the drive on his show Tuesday night. Wednesday morning, Charles Butt, the CEO of Texas supermarket chain H-E-B donated a huge $5 million.

YouCaring itself donated $50,000, and Amazon donated trucks and labor to transport more physical donations. Both money and tangible donations will focus on supplying food, water, and needed goods to those who have lost everything to the hurricane, and those still waiting to find out if they have homes to go back to.

Watt says that he’s found a great deal of strength and inspiration in the response to his call for funds.

“Every time we hit one of these landmarks I’m amazed. I think the worst times bring out the best in people and we’re seeing it in abundance right now,” he tweeted on Friday. And he’s right. Volunteers and donations have flocked to the stricken city and its surrounding towns. It will never be enough, but everything helps.

*Photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group via Flickr Creative Commons.


Tips for Helping Those Affected by Hurricane Harvey

Every major crisis comes with a cacophony of calls for donations. And Hurricane Harvey is no exception. Tens of thousands of people are displaced, thousands of homes gone. The flooding is off the scale, even a week after it all began. For every person looking to help, it can feel like a thousand hands are outstretched in their direction.

Here are a few tips to narrow down your own charity options.

Look for organizations on the ground. People who are already there, who you can see helping on the news. A lot of the time, this means the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Both have had their problems, but both also have demonstrated expertise in disaster relief. Other good grounded organizations include the United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community Foundation. They both have long histories in the area.

This is the other half the same coin but it bears emphasis: avoid new groups. They may seem tailor-made to match your sympathies, but they could easily vanish as quickly as they appeared. High flight risk, in other words. Privately-run donation drives fall under this same umbrella. These are especially common in online communities. So is the organizer disappearing with the proceeds, or showing a faked-up receipt of donation.

Donate money, not goods. There will be organizations offering to collect blankets and clothes and used toys and food. They come from a well-meaning place, but they aren’t helpful. A 100-pack of blankets can be bought on Amazon for less money and less time than it would cost to collect and ship hand-me-downs. Companies out for more than karma points will only be asking for money and maybe volunteers.

And last but not least, consider the long-term. Hurricane Katrina was 12 years ago and NOLA’s last refugees are only just now moving back. Houston and the other washed-out parts of Texas will need donations in six months and in six years as much as they do today.

Advice Donation News

Beware of Hurricane Harvey Charity Scams

One thing about natural disasters: They bring out the best—and the worst—in people.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the resultant flooding, aid has been pouring in to Texas. Dozens of disaster relief organizations either have or are arranging for staff to be present to assist the people and animals left homeless by Harvey. Not only that, but area residents are helping one another, too.

Unfortunately, though, there are always people who will take advantage of our desire to help the victims of natural disasters. Scammers are now using the Hurricane Harvey disaster to trick people into clicking links, both on Facebook and Twitter, and through phishing emails trying to solicit charitable giving for flood victims. Here are some examples provided by KnowBe4’s Security Awareness Training Blog:

  • Facebook pages dedicated to victim relief that contain links to scam websites.
  • Tweets are going out with links to charitable websites soliciting donations, but in reality they include spam links or links that lead to a malware infection.
  • Phishing emails appearing in users’ inboxes asking for donations to #HurricaneHarvey Relief Fund.

KnowBe4 suggests that you send employees, friends, and family an email about this scam of the week. Here’s their suggested text:

“Heads-up! Bad guys are exploiting the Hurricane Harvey disaster. There are fake Facebook pages, tweets are going out with fake charity websites, and phishing emails are sent out asking for donations to #HurricaneHarvey Relief Funds.

Don’t fall for any scams. If you want to make a donation, go to the website of the charity of your choice and make a donation. Type the address in your browser or use a bookmark. Do not click on any links in emails or text you might get. Whatever you see in the coming weeks about Hurricane Harvey disaster relief… THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK.

So, what do you do if you want to make a donation and be sure your money is going to a legit organization and your credit card information isn’t going to be hijacked by scammers? Consumerist recommends the following:

  • Don’t be shy about asking who wants your money. If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser.
  • Call the charity directly. Fiind out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.
  • Trust your gut and check your records. Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making the donation or don’t have a record of your pledge, resist the pressure to give.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight. This is especially true after natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.
  • Watch out for similar-sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
  • Do not send or give cash donations. Cash can be lost or stolen. For security or tax records, it’s best to pay by credit card—BUT look for indicators that the site is secure like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https” (the S stands for “secure”).
  • Check charity review websites. Sites like Charity Navigator or Guidestar to see if the organization is listed as a 501(c)(3) charity and that the site indicates it to be a trustworthy charity.
  • Report scam charities. We’ve got some tips for how to do that here.

So, who should you donate to? At this point, organizations that are meeting basic needs like food, fresh water, and shelter should be priorities. Some organizations you can consider include:

Photo: Houston, Texas, flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. This isn’t even the worst of it. Credit: michelmond /