$1 Million Thaw: Collaborative Campaign Aids Winter Storm Victims

By Edward Cortez

SAN ANTONIO — Launched during the devastating February winter storm, the Community Pipe Repair Program (CPR) Fund continues to help San Antonians with emergency plumbing repairs.

Following Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s direction, the San Antonio Area Foundation partnered with San Antonio Water System (SAWS) to set up the CPR Fund as a charitable fund.

“It has been great to work hand in hand with SAWS and the City of San Antonio to offer this opportunity for all of us to help our neighbors in need,” said Lisa Brunsvold, the Area Foundation’s Vice President of Development and Donor Services. “We knew we had to mobilize quickly because the need was immediate and widespread.”

Eligible residents who applied for the CPR Fund and received approval from SAWS welcomed a visit from a plumber who made repairs and restored water flow to toilets, faucets, bathtubs and showers — all at no cost to the homeowner. 

It was a tremendous outpouring of support from across the city, state and country that led the CPR Fund to grow to more than $1.1 million, with initial lead gifts from the San Antonio Spurs and several donor-advised funds within the Area Foundation. Nearly 400 contributions were received within a month, ranging from $5 to $250,000, showing that literally every donation went a long way toward leveraging an astounding community impact.

The CPR Fund came to the rescue for 2,650 San Antonians, according to Gavino Ramos, Vice President of Communications and External Affairs at SAWS. 

The February winter storm may seem like a distant memory for some people now well into the summer, but SAWS still receives a handful of fund applications every week.

Ramos was personally heartbroken after seeing the tremendous havoc the deep freeze wreaked on many San Antonians, especially those with limited incomes or living in aging homes.

But he was just as impressed by how fast the San Antonio Area Foundation and its supporters worked with SAWS to immediately assist residents in need.

For the Area Foundation’s Gavin Nichols, the concern was both professional and personal. That’s why it wasn’t enough for him to know that his employer was helping out – he felt compelled to do more.

 “I contributed because I was lucky,” said Nichols, Senior Program Officer for Youth Success with the Area Foundation’s Community Engagement and Impact team. “Our pipes froze and we did not have water for four days – had to melt snow to flush the toilets. But many other homeowners were not so lucky. I wanted to pitch in to help them.”

Luis de la Garza, a former member of the Area Foundation’s Board of Directors, said he and his wife Sherry Hatcher were happy to donate to the CPR Fund, seeing it as one more among a plethora of life-changing initiatives the Area Foundation readily takes on to help the community.

The couple lost power for nearly two days during the winter storm, but they didn’t have the same kind of water or plumbing problems endured by some of their neighbors and countless San Antonians.

“I can only imagine how much worse things would’ve been if we had broken pipes,” De la Garza said.

He and Hatcher were saddened to see many accounts of people suffering from burst pipes and other plumbing challenges. But they were heartened to see how quickly the Area Foundation, City Hall and SAWS collaborated to quickly get the CPR Fund off the ground.

De la Garza recalled how the Area Foundation’s Philanthropy for Business program helped businesses affected by Hurricane Harvey and the chaos left in that storm’s wake in 2017. The Area Foundation helped 3,200 employees and their families with more than $3.3 million in aid.

The CPR Fund initiative has been similarly effective, de la Garza noted: “The best thing that the Foundation could do was to directly help people who suffered through the winter storm.”

People like Annette Reus. The 83-year-old Southeast Sider initially noticed low water pressure, especially in the bathroom, a rumbling sound beneath her house and her bathroom floorboard sinking.

Weeks later, contractors working on Reus’ foundation found the culprit: a buildup of ice had caused pipes to explode.

Not knowing where to turn for help, Reus researched local nonprofit and community assistance programs and came across the CPR Fund.

Reus received pipe repairs in her garage, kitchen and backyard – all for free. Today, she can’t stop singing the praises of the Area Foundation and SAWS.

“It warmed my heart to see a nonprofit reach out to people in need. I never thought I’d be on the receiving end of something like this,” Reus effused. “I feel so blessed.”

Another day at the office for the hard-working staff at the Area Foundation, always seeking to get involved in any effort to be a good neighbor in our community.

“It’s just another way the Foundation makes a strong impact on the lives of people in need,” de la Garza said.

Edward Cortez is a freelance writer in San Antonio and part of the San Antonio Area Foundation Marketing and Communications Department’s new Storytelling Ambassador contributor network.