A $15,000 donation from former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is allowing One Love Longview to assist East Texans with disaster recovery from the winter storm.

One Love Longview co-founder Amanda Veasy said the nonprofit organization received the contribution from O’Rourke on Wednesday, and the group is looking to distribute the majority of the funds in the next seven days.

Though the organization typically focuses on Longview, Veasy said the “detrimental” needs across East Texas are so great that One Love Longview is expanding its reach for this effort and is accepting requests for assistance from residents of Gregg, Upshur, Marion, Harrison, Panola and Camp counties.

Additionally, because the organization believes the needs will be greater than the $15,000 donation, Veasy said One Love Longview started a fundraising campaign and food drive Monday. Food and monetary donations for the “Together We Have It All” campaign will be accepted this week at the One Love Longview Counseling Center and at Longview Dream Center. Monetary donations also can be made through PayPal and Cash App.

“We are grateful for this donation from the O’Rourkes, and we really want to bring awareness to the needs in our community. We felt like there were needs in our community that were really overlooked,” Veasy said. “There were hundreds of people calling on us for assistance during the initial impact of the winter storm, and we are continuing to see a significant need.”

The organization is also seeking to correct the perception that the East Texas area was not impacted by the storm. Veasy noted the group has received many requests for assistance, particularly from poverty-stricken, high minority population areas of Longview and greater East Texas. While many areas retained power and water during the storm, that doesn’t mean that the entire area escaped unharmed, Veasy said.

“We want our entire community to recognize that East Texas did not escape this storm unscathed,” she said. “There are rural, high-poverty and minority areas that are still without running water. We know of some people who have been without water for 12 days now. Some areas of our community were detrimentally impacted by this storm.”

The needs

Before the winter storm, Veasy began working with Nicki Capaldo with the American Red Cross to try to help East Texas prepare before the storm. Capaldo serves as the disaster program manager for the Red Cross for Gregg, Upshur, Marion, Harrison, Panola and Camp counties.

When the storm initially hit, Veasy said One Love Longview received “a tremendous outpouring of needs from all across East Texas.” Those needs primarily stemmed from requests for food, water and transportation, she said.

“There were several people in our community who were trapped in their homes without food or running water. Some were without power,” she said.

The organization helped in a variety of ways. For example, a person who had tested for COVID-19 before the storm and whose test came back positive as the storm hit could not traverse the icy roads to get to a pharmacy for medication, she said. One Love Longview helped.

At Truman W. Smith Children’s Care Center in Gladewater and at Longview hospitals, many staff members slept overnight at the facilities, and One Love Longview helped provide food. The organization delivered meals to truckers who were stranded at truck stops because of icy roads.

“Truman Smith had been without water for a few days when we received a request from them, and they were anticipating it would be a couple more days before they could get water,” Veasy said. “We were able to get water and pre-packaged meals from MG Foods to them.”

Through partnerships with MG Foods and the Jeep enthusiast group E.T. Jeep Outlaws, the organization helped distribute more than 20,000 pre-packaged meals during the storm, she said.

As the ice melted, Veasy said the needs began to change, shifting toward residents who needed assistance as pipes burst, roofs were damaged, carports collapsed and more. For example, the group learned about a grandmother in Gilmer who is raising her grandchildren, one of whom is in a wheelchair. The family’s carport fell on the top of the van she uses to transport her disabled grandchild, Veasy said. The storm also took out the ramp used to transport the child from the car into the house, she added.

Veasy noted many requests are from poverty-stricken, high-minority population areas of Longview and greater East Texas.

“We want our entire community to recognize that East Texas did not escape this storm unscathed,” she said. “There are rural, high poverty and minority areas that are still without running water. We know of some people who have been without water for 12 days now. Some areas of our community were detrimentally impacted by this storm.”

The donation

O’Rourke is among several Democratic politicians who have been raising money to help with Texas disaster following the winter storm. O’Rourke placed a donation link to the ActBlue fundraising campaign to the homepage of Powered by People, O’Rourke’s leadership PAC.

The website states that 100 percent of contributions will go to help Texas and that none of the contributions will go toward “overhead or administrative costs at Powered by People.” Donations are to be distributed to agencies and organizations within the “hardest hit communities of Texas,” according to the website.

Veasy said One Love Longview did not apply for assistance; instead O’Rourke heard about the organization and the work it is doing.

“At first, they didn’t think there was a great need here, but we explained to them that we are seeing a need especially in some of the more rural areas of our community. We were able to relay the accurate needs that we are seeing,” Veasy said. “I had the opportunity to relay those needs to Amy O’Rourke by phone, and they chose to make this generous contribution to us.”

One Love Longview received the funds Wednesday and said O’Rourke’s intent is to see a mass distribution of funds within 10 days, though Veasy noted that not all of the work has to be completed by then. Within 48 hours of receiving the funds, One Love Longview put a plan in place to distribute the disaster relief funds in the area.

The group posted a Google form, called the 2021 Winter Storm Assessment, to its Facebook page and Facebook group account. Residents can fill out the form, which seeks contact information as well as a request for the person to explain their need.

Within 24 hours of posting the form, Veasy said, the organization received more than 50 requests for assistance. Requests are still being accepted.

One Love Longview’s disaster relief team is reviewing the requests and prioritizing them based on the most critical, Veasy said.

Repairs, ongoing assistance

One Love Longview is partnering with the American Red Cross and other nonprofit organizations in the community for the disaster relief project. For example, it is partnering with MercyWorks, in Garden Valley outside of Lindale, for some work. MercyWorks, a nonprofit organization branch of Youth with a Mission, has partnerships with contractors in East Texas and other areas to help perform repairs. That partnership, Veasy said, will help the money stretch further.

The group hopes to make a majority of repairs in the next seven days as it looks to meet critical needs quickly.

“We definitely would like to get a majority of the work done in the next seven days as we want to make sure that people have their most pressing needs met quickly,” Veasy said. “However, with the amount of needs that we are seeing, there is no way all of the work will be done in seven days.”

While the $15,000 donation is also a “great start to help meet the needs,” as requests continue to come in, Veasy expects more funds will be needed to help fill the gap.

To do that, she said, One Love Longview is seeking the community’s assistance in stepping up to provide additional donations as well as food.

“We are seeing people who have been without power or water for days and who have had their entire food supply ruined,” Veasy said. “So with that, we are also going to post a list of food needs and we will have two drop off points.”

Damone Wisdom, an intern counselor with the One Love Longview Counseling Center, said for the needs to met, the group needs the community’s involvement.

“If you don’t have the monetary means to contribute, you can help by giving your time or help with the food drive. With everything that’s been going on with the pandemic, some people many have extra food that they stockpiled. If you over-bought, now is a good time to give back to the community so we can help people who need those resources,” Wisdom said.

Food and monetary donations can be given 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the One Love Longview Counseling Center, 1413 W. Loop 281, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at Longview Dream Center, 803 Gilmer Road.

When making donations at Longview Dream Center, individuals should specify that it is for One Love Longview as the Dream Center is a nonprofit organization that also operates a year-round food pantry.

One Love Longview is also accepting monetary donations through PayPal and Cash App. For PayPal donations, visit paypal.me/1lovelongview. Through Cash App, monetary donations may be sent to $1lovelongview.

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