Red Cross donates $1.5 million to Bastrop long term relief

Reanna Zuniga

The American Red Cross of Central Texas awarded a $1.5 million community grant to the Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team on Tuesday.

The funds granted will be used to complete the construction of 30 new homes for families whose houses were destroyed in the 2011 Bastrop wildfires. The Recovery Team is a non-profit, non-government affiliated organization dedicated to providing assistance to uninsured and underinsured low-income families who were affected by the wildfires. The fire charred 34,000 acres of land, turning 1,691 homes to ash. Concerned citizens as well as survivors of the disaster formed the organization to help affected families.

Suwetha Amsavelu, president of the American Red Cross Club at UT, said members of the student organization pitched in last year to help a Bastrop woman who was displaced from her home by the wildfires. 

“We were only able to help one woman, but even years later there are still so many of the affected out there,” Amsavelu said. “This grant will help so many more people.”

Janice Butler, the executive director of the Recovery Team, lost two houses in the wildfires. 

“I was really fortunate to have insurance to pay to rebuild one of my homes,” Butler said. “Other families are not so fortunate, but through cut costs and donations we are able to build [30 houses] with the bare necessities between $45,000 and $50,000 dollars, and the families are just so thankful.”

In the past two years the Recovery Team has been able to build 79 homes for affected families, and with the new grant the team’s goal is to complete the new homes by April 2014.

“Thirty families who remained on our waiting list for assistance will now be able to rebuild their lives because of this grant,” said Christine Files, president of the Recovery Team. “We are so thrilled, and we hope this serves as an incentive for the Central Texas community to help us finish the recovery efforts that have been started.”

Assisting with the recovery program is the Mennonite Disaster Service, an organization that sends volunteers from the northern states and Canada to build homes at no cost to the families or the organization. These volunteers make it possible for houses to be built at such a low cost because they do not accept payment for their work.

“These families experienced devastation, numbness and fatigue,” said Kevin King, the executive director of the service. “We want to create a storm of compassion and be a new generation of generosity and healing hope for Texas.”