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Central Texas experienced historic winter weather the week of Feb. 14, with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. Water reservoirs were depleted and frozen pipes burst, leaving some without service for days.

'The Need is Great': Residents Collect Food, Water At East Austin Emergency Distribution Center

Volunteers Dinita Caldwell and her son, Dayne, load water into a car at Sims Elementary School on Saturday.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Volunteers Dinita Caldwell and her son, Dayne, load water into a car at Sims Elementary School on Saturday.

When the power cut out and the pipes froze at Quienton McCullough’s house early this week, he did what a lot of Austinites did: headed for a motel.

Then the power and water went out there, too.

"It was pretty bad," he said. “I'm 60 years old, and I never saw nothing like this."

Now, he can’t return to his house because the pipes have burst. He said he has one day left at the motel, but no food or water.

Stories like McCullough’s are happening everywhere as Texas emerges from its catastrophic deep freeze. But volunteers, who are also reeling from the blackout and its aftermath, are organizing to help.

On Saturday morning, McCullough picked up food and water at a distribution site organized by the Black Leaders Collective at Sims Elementary in East Austin.

The Collective is a group of community leaders "who have come together to set forth priorities that are Black-led and Black-centered," organizer Shuronda Robinson said as things got underway at Sims.

"People are coming back to homes and finding that they can't stay there," she said. "They're coming back to refrigerators that haven't been working. And so the food has spoiled."

Added to those hardships is the fact that grocery stores have been unable to receive food supplies because of road conditions.

"The need is great," said Dinita Caldwell, a volunteer who herself spent days without power this week. "The shelves are bare. You can't get water. You can't get simple produce."

The organization is asking people to drop off food, clean water, feminine hygiene products, blankets, baby food and formula, diapers, toiletries and medications, socks and personal protective equipment. It has also set up a free meal service with Black-owned restaurants.

"The basic need I’m seeing the most is water, drinking water," volunteer Cuitláhuac Guerra said in Spanish. "The water from the tap doesn’t come, and people are looking for water."

Guerra said he was there to provide Spanish-language translation at the site and "to help people feel comfortable."

Like Caldwell, he said he spent days without electricity this week.

"At my house I’m bored, just hanging around with my kids,” he said. "We need to help. It’s better to help out than to escape to Cancún."

People can pick up or drop off donations at Sims on Springdale Road through Wednesday from noon to 6 p.m. The Black Leaders Collective is also accepting donations on its website.

The group says its focus is helping people who are challenged with preexisting racial and socioeconomic barriers.

"It feels like a never-ending cycle," Caldwell said. "From the pandemic to now the winter storm, the communities were already strained."

Got a tip? Email Mose Buchele at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.

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Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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