Winter Storm Relief in Austin Came From Professionals
A chef and an owner of a PR firm did what they could – with amazing results – to help during and after historic weather
When millions of Texans lost power, water and access to fresh food in an unprecedented winter storm that rattled the state last month, Austinites came together to give back, love their neighbors and provide critical aid to those in need. One of the many inspiring examples of resilience and caring in Austin is how businesses and professionals have activated existing networks to respond to a crisis. Here are two of those stories.
Co-owner of L’Oca d’O and co-founder of Good Work Austin
Adam Orman, proprietor of L’Oca d’Oro with Chef Fiore Tedesco, is a co-founder of Good Work Austin, an organization of small-business owners that aims to be a voice for workers and to provide “support and resources to employees that keep them healthy and keep growth in Austin sustainable,” he says.
GWA offers access to nonprofit services like financial literacy classes with Foundation Communities, anti-sexual harassment training with SAFE Alliance, counseling via Capital Area Counseling and racial equity training with RAISE: High Road Restaurants for managers and owners.
During the last year, GWA’s members have met nearly every week to discuss unemployment compensation, mask mandates and other topics of the pandemic era. Also in that time, GWA secured city contracts for feeding programs, which are typically awarded to large-scale catering companies. It’s these partnerships with AISD, certain homelessness initiatives and Austin Public Health that have allowed some of the city’s favorite restaurants to stay afloat during the pandemic while also providing relief to people struggling to feed themselves and their families.
“We think it’s a really effective way to combat food insecurity to have more neighborhood restaurants providing a smaller amount of meals to people in their community,” Orman says.
When the winter weather hit, roads closed down and many lost power, GWA was already in a position to quickly assemble and deliver tens of thousands of meals to those in need. The list restaurants involved more than doubled to 55 during the crisis. “Every day we were hearing about new sites, figuring out what restaurants could get ingredients, who still had power, and coordinating volunteer drivers,” Orman says.
While water has still not been restored to parts of the city and other effects of the storm remain, Orman is pleased that GWA was able to move in the right direction and has the infrastructure to handle “the next crisis and address the city’s issues in general.”
President at Cara Caulkins Communications
Just like Orman, Cara Caulkins jumped into action with communications industry colleagues to leverage their networks to organize meal delivery and raise funds for people suddenly left without power and water. She partnered with Deep Eddy Vodka, Kendra Scott and Bumble to raise funds and “connect private donation brand sponsorship money to get meals to the public,” she explains.
Caulkins worked with Chelsea McCullough of Mylk Collective, influencer Jane Ko and journalist Kristy Owen of 365 Things Austin to boost fundraising and start getting more meals from local restaurants who could operate safely. A few of the first restaurants engaged were Southside Flying Pizza, Chilantro, Veracruz Tacos and China Harbor, some overlapping with the 50-plus restaurants within the Good Work Austin sphere. Drivers were activated and those like Southside and Taco Deli were able do all of their own deliveries.
“In the first few weeks we did over 30,000 meals,” Caulkins says. “It turned into over a week of 15-hour days on email, phone and text, coordinating free public meals, meals to hospital frontline workers, meals and water to low income communities in need and much more.”
Furthermore, they have teamed up with organizations like World Central Kitchen and Tank Proof to start a GoFundMe campaign, which has raised more than $157,000 so far.
“Through the power of social media, our relationships and our day jobs that connect us to the local news, we have been leading a lot of the communication and logistics for resources that people desperately need,” Caulkins says. “We are now pivoting to address how we continue to help support where it’s needed most, as well as help our local restaurants recover from the devastating events.”
While the storm has passed, the need hasn’t subsided for many Austin residents and frontline workers. Some of your neighbors are still without water or a way to get to a pickup point.
The local businesses and professionals – merely a couple we’ve highlighted here – who’ve used their skills creatively to help others has been critical, and will no doubt continue to inspire.