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Confusion Over Oak Hill Brush Fire Benefit Prompts Second Fundraiser

A car burned by the wildfire in Oak Hill on April 17
Photo by KUT News
A car burned by the wildfire in Oak Hill on April 17

Some people whose homes were destroyed in an April 17 brush fire in Oak Hill are upset that none of the more than $11,000 collected at a fundraiser sponsored by the Red Cross went directly to the families affected. The blaze destroyed eleven homes and damaged several others. In one jarring anecdote, Oak Hill resident Doug Todd, hooked up to an oxygen tank, speaks in this YouTube video about how he received only about $300.

The publisher of the Oak Hill Gazette, Will Atkins, lives in the neighborhood where homes were damaged. He told KUT News that in his newspaper’s reporting on this story, some Oak Hill residents said they felt like the Red Cross had left them “high and dry.”

“People were told when they went to this function, which was $20 a head, that the money would stay in Oak Hill, but it didn’t,” Atkins said. He also praised the actions of the Red Cross in the immediate aftermath of the blaze.

The Red Cross of Central Texas says it only provides emergency aid and does not take up collections for individual families. The non-profit’s CEO, Marty McKellips, says anytime they are involved in a third-party fundraiser, they require the host – in this case, Jack Allen’s Kitchen – to sign a form saying where they want the money to go.

“When we talked to them, we had explained to them that we had already probably expended all the money we would be expending in Oak Hill,” McKellips said. The fundraiser would reimburse the Red Cross for that money and then organizers could designate where the remainder would be allocated, she said.

“They designated that money to go either to the local chapter, or to the national disaster relief fund to prepare for future fires that may be occurring this summer,” McKellips said.

The Red Cross, as a matter of policy, does not take up collection for individual families because that would divert resources from its emergency response role.

“If there’s a fire tonight, the fire department wants us there with a shelter in two hours, so we have to have money in our bank account to allow that to happen,” she said. “The way people can give to individual families is simply to go to those individual families and give them money.”

That’s exactly what is happening this Sunday in Oak Hill.  The Oak Hill Gazette is organizing another fundraiser at Veteran’s Cove in collaboration with two neighborhood associations involved: the Scenic Brooke Neighborhood Association and the South Windmill Run Neighborhood Association. They are establishing a fund that will go directly to people affected by the fire.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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