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United together, we can weather every storm

Fighting poverty means fighting to change broken systems, and last week every member of our community felt the weight of broken systems. No one in Texas was safe from the statewide systems failure that caused millions of Texans to be without power, heat, clean drinking water, and access to food and resources when needed. It was a terrible week, and our community will feel the weight of tragedy and trauma for years to come as we rebuild together. As setbacks mounted many felt hopeless, but in the wake of the disaster something beautiful happened. While systems let us down, our neighbors came together to find their own solutions. United together in community, we helped each other make it through.


There are many bright stories from across the city of grassroots organizations, volunteers, and individuals who made sure neighbors had some way to stay warm and fed, and that they had access to water. The team at United Way for Greater Austin saw an opportunity to bring together our friends and partners to help with the water crisis, and quickly jumped into action. 

Last Friday (February 19), reports of city-wide water outages and clean water concerns surfaced. United Way ATX’s Madison Mattise (Director of Pre-K Partnerships) and Cathy McHorse (VP of Success By 6) wanted to ensure that Austin families with young children had access to the clean water they needed to weather this crisis. They immediately began connecting with the greater United Way ATX team, partners, and local child care centers to provide them with drinking water and building maintenance needs. Taking to social media, text messages, phone calls, and emails our team received so much support from our partners to accomplish this goal.

Patsy Harnage, Center Director for Bright Beginnings Child Care Center receiving donations of “Richards Rainwater” thanks to CASA of Travis County.

My staff members and parents picking up the water are in tears, thanking y’all for making this happen. Some of them have not had any drinking water in days.”

-Patsy Harnage, Bright Beginnings

Cathy McHorse got in touch with a partner at CASA of Travis County who reached out to offer several pallets of water that could be provided to the child care centers. While our team waited to hear about this water delivery that would be coming in from Dallas, Madison Mattise began calling around to the local breweries that had been offering free water to the community through their social channels. After striking out with many breweries (they had requirements for folks to bring their own containers for water), we got a call back from Friends and Allies Brewing who were willing to fill their unused kegs with fresh water that they would lend to our centers.

The brewery had hundreds of gallons of potable water ready to keg and distribute that Saturday for our team, but we encountered a hiccup in our plans: We needed taps for the kegs! Cathy McHorse immediately looped in Bill Butler (Senior Corporate Account Manager at United Way ATX) and he sprung into action. He contacted the owner of Junior’s Beer and Wine to see if they could solve our problem, and they were happy to! They provided us with all the taps we needed to use the kegs of water that were loaned to us.

By Friday night (February 19), Madison Mattise was hard at work arranging logistics between our team and partners, and the child care centers who would receive our clean water donations. Saturday afternoon (February 20), Friends and Allies Brewing hosted a water keg pick-up site on their loading docks. Madison Mattise, Cathy McHorse, their families, friends, and colleagues loaded and distributed 720 gallons of potable water to 7 child care centers in south and central Austin. 

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“[The team at United Way] are always the first ones to reach out and see what we need when something happens. ”  – Amanda P., KinderCare

Then, our partner child care centers reached out to their families to distribute the drinking water to them. The water we were able to connect these centers with served many families, and continued to provide safe drinking water for the child care centers throughout this week while we waited for the boil water notice to be lifted.

A huge shout out to our team and partners who jumped into action when the systems were failing our community: Madison Mattise (and neighbors, friends, and family), Cathy McHorse (and family), Bill Butler (and family), Kerry Fahey (and family), Laura Wolf, CASA of Travis County, Patsy Harnage of Bright Beginnings child care center, Friends and Allies Brewing, Junior’s Beer & Wine, and the rest of our community that helped friends and neighbors who were without power, heat, and water during the winter weather crisis. 

United together, we can weather every storm.


Update: The children from Sweet Briar Child Development Center wanted to pass along a special thank you to Friends and Allies Brewing, and everyone who supported their families during the winter weather crisis.


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