Think Small Donations Don’t Mean Much? This Story Will Change Your Mind

When volunteers at Austin Disaster Relief Network helped families recover after two devastating floods, they saw how much even seemingly small things count.

adrnCourtesy, ADRN.orgIn May 2015, drenching rains created flash flooding in and around Austin, Texas. Outside the city, the Blanco River hit a record 43 feet—30 feet over its flood stage—and waters barreled by 2.5 times faster than the Niagara Falls.

The Memorial Day weekend floods left about 1,000 people displaced, according to My Statesman.

One family of four was homeless after losing everything they owned, including their home and both their cars, in the floods. Thanks to Austin Disaster Relief Network, a partnership of more than 175 churches from the Greater Austin area, the family was able to stay in a hotel room while waiting for a permanent home. Still, they didn’t have the basic supplies they were used to. The parents and children were sharing a single toothbrush because the hotel didn’t offer them to guests.

ADRN invited the family to “shop” for free at the organization’s thrift store. They hunted through racks of clothes and shoes, but one donation excited them more than the others. Their hygiene kit contained four toothbrushes. “The kids’ eyes when they saw that toothbrush—it was a shock,” says Daniel Geraci, executive director of ADRN. “The moment those things happen, it starts to feel like things are getting better, getting back to normal.” The kids were so grateful to have a toothbrush to themselves that they started brushing three times a day.

adrnCourtesy, ADRN.orgSince 2009—the year ADRN was established—the area has seen more major disasters than in the previous 100 years combined. After a crisis, ADRN volunteers trained in trauma debriefing go door-to-door to about 2,000 to 3,000 homes. First, they listen as families share their stories, helping them heal emotionally. Volunteers are sure to ask them to think of one good thing that came out of the terrible situation. “It’s so important for them to see the goodness, the hope that’s beginning to restore,” says Geraci.

Once the families finish talking, volunteers give them gift cards to help with immediate financial needs, then invite them to the thrift store to pick out free clothes, linens, toys, and more. After those immediate needs are met, they focus on helping to find and fund new cars and temporary housing. Finally, ADRN, along with other organizations, help the families rebuild their homes.

Danet Rios lost basically everything in the Memorial Day weekend floods. Five months later, repairs were finally coming together. Then on Halloween, a flood just six inches lower than the last devastated her home again. It was the same damage. The family of five lost their home, clothes, computers, and more.

ADRN helped Rios and her family find a hotel, then transition into an RV. Space was tight—Rios’ two daughters shared the bedroom, her son slept on the couch, and she and her husband slept on a mattress in the kitchen. But after six months, ADRN bought the family a double-wide mobile home.

adrnCourtesy, ADRN.orgThroughout the struggle, the family actually strengthened its bond. Before the flooding, the kids and parents didn’t interact much. Saying “goodnight” was about the extent of their conversations. But in the wake of the disaster, the family began talking more and spending more time together. “People say, ‘You got flooded; you lost everything,’” says Rios in a video. “But I didn’t [lose] my family. I gained my family.”

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.