Hurricane Harvey hovered over much of Texas dumping more rain in a few days than some areas see in a year. The small community of La Grange could not have predicted the devastation this historic rainfall would have.
The rain caused the Colorado River to crest at 54.22 feet, the third highest crest in recorded history and the highest since 1913. The flooding caused the complete devastation of three mobile home parks, over 30 structural homes, over 40 small businesses and directly affecting the lives of over 1,000 people (1/4 of La Grange’s population). Before the flood waters had a chance to recede, the Rotary Club of La Grange knew they had to take action.
Rotary’s response was immediate, one day after the flood waters washed away neighborhoods and people were left with nothing, the Club began a GoFundMe page. Rotarians took to Facebook and other social media forums to share the community’s devastation and provide a place where people could help by donating. The goal of the page was to raise funds for school supplies lost in the flood and to meet immediate needs of those affected. The Rotary Club of La Grange was the first organization to take action and try to help those impacted. Using social media to get the word out, the club raised over $40,000 from the online campaign. In conjunction with the ongoing awareness of Rotary’s efforts, an anonymous donor gave the club $250,000 with a stipulation that funds be used to help those directly impacted. The Club secured an additional $40,000 through grants applied for by the Club. Nine Rotary Clubs from all over the nation donated another $9,000. Within a matter of a few weeks, the Club had enough funds to begin making impactful decisions.
A seven member advisory committee formed to review suggested uses of the funds. The club held a community day for those impacted by the floods to fill out applications stating what their immediate needs were at the time. After reviewing hundreds of applications, the committee discovered that the direst need was the payment of bills. Therefore, Rotary did just that. The committee worked with the city utilities and paid two months of residential utility bills for those impacted by the flood.  Then they paid, one month of utility bills for all of the small businesses impacted.  In total, over $100,000 was paid in utility bills. The committee then moved on to working with individual families. The committee learned quickly that many families impacted were Hispanic and a language and trust barrier existed. This barrier was eliminated by partnering with a respected community leader that was able to translate for the Club and assured the community that they could trust Rotary. This partner has since become a Rotarian and her daughter has joined the La Grange High School Interact Club. Connections with community leaders in the area allowed the club to identify and help over 40 individual families by paying bills ranging from daycare to car insurance to rent.
Part of Rotary’s disaster relief mission was to aid other organizations that were impacted and organizations that were assisting victims. The Club donated to the La Grange PTO, the Sheriff’s Department’s Deputy Santa Program, Habitat for Humanity, Knights of Columbus, Second Chance, Tejas Health Care, and the Mennonite Disaster Service. In addition to these donations, the committee felt strongly about helping graduating high school seniors that lost everything in the flood. For this special initiative a new partnership was born. Rotary used $36,000 of the funds raised for Disaster Relief and partnered with the La Grange Optimist Club to obtain an additional $12,000 to give out scholarships to seniors who were impacted by the flood. This joint effort allowed the two organizations to give 24 students each a $2,000 scholarship. Since the donations, community support has been overwhelming. Club membership has increased and membership in the Club’s Interact Club has skyrocketed.
The Rotary Club of La Grange raised and distributed over $350,000 to families, students, small businesses, and organizations. Social media played a pivotal role in the Club’s fundraising effort and was a primary reason the Club was successful in making an immediate impact. “This past year has been a recovery in the making”, said Stacey Norris, Community Service Director for the Rotary Club of La Grange. To commemorate the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, the Club sponsored a new annual community meal in partnership with the La Grange Volunteer Fire Department. Over 600 free hamburger meals were served. The Club plans to continue to sponsor this annual event to provide the community an opportunity for fellowship and reflection.