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Brazos Valley officials, advocates champion relief efforts after winter storm
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Brazos Valley officials, advocates champion relief efforts after winter storm

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A community-led donation and supply drive in College Station connected more than 1,000 area residents with food, water and other critical materials Saturday as people across Texas worked to address needs in the aftermath of the severe winter storm.

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions spent Saturday meeting with county judges and other officials in all 12 counties in District 17 on a daylong tour designed to gather information about the widespread impacts of the harsh weather. He made an afternoon stop at Porters Dining in College Station and visited with Brazos County Judge Duane Peters and Precinct 2 Commissioner Russ Ford, as well as local media outlets.

There will be at least two food and supply distribution sites in Bryan-College Station operating today. Separate groups of community leaders have organized distributions at Peace Lutheran Church in College Station from noon to 4 p.m. and at the Carver Kemp Neighborhood Association from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

According to the Texas Tribune, Texas ordered nearly 10 million bottles of water and more than 5 million ready-to-eat meals to be delivered in the coming days with the aid of the Texas National Guard and other partners, state officials said at a Saturday news conference.

The Tribune reported Saturday evening that 14.4 million people in 190 Texas counties have water challenges of some kind.

Also Saturday, President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas that allows renters and homeowners in 77 counties that have been designated for individual assistance to apply for disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brazos, Burleson, Madison and Grimes counties were among the approved counties; FEMA said later in the day that “additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state, and warranted by the results of further assessments.”

Gov. Greg Abbott said he held a bipartisan meeting with state legislators from both chambers Saturday and discussed issues facing some Texans in the aftermath of the storm.

“We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” Abbott said in a news conference. According to a readout of the call from the governor’s press office, Texas Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, urged a bipartisan approach to solving weather-related economic challenges.

Sessions, who represents much of Central Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he traveled the district to hear directly from local leaders in advance of his return to Washington, D.C., late today.

“We have to worry, first, about doing the things that are necessary, picking up the pieces and making sure that people are safe, and then learning the whole story,” Sessions said. “Then we’re going to get very deliberate about the plan for next time. It’s important for elected officials to dig deep, to match the resiliency of wherever they’re from and focus on the things which are priorities —  people’s safety and taking care of the most vulnerable.”

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He said he hopes in the coming weeks and months to have more answers for local leaders and his constituents. 

“Everybody was in some way almost equally impacted,” Sessions said. “I think it’s going to require, instead of just Congress, it’s going to require the state of Texas to look at some allocations. One of the things that I, in this drive today, have thought about is an allocation by region or county for all these essential items. … One time it may be freeze, another time it may be water or heat, but it places a stress on the infrastructure that we’ve got to overcome, I hope, through better management and getting the money to appropriate it instead of for other types of programs.”

Many in the area and region are dealing with plumbing issues brought on by the fierce cold. At least two churches in the area — North Bryan New Birth Baptist Church and Friends Congregational Church-UCC in College Station — sustained water damage to their church buildings, according to social media posts from the congregations.

Leaders from the Brazos Valley Blessings Facebook group and Black Lives Matter B/CS continued receiving and distributing donated food, water and other materials Saturday at Peace Lutheran Church in College Station.

Ebony Peterson, cofounder of Black Lives Matter B/CS, and Amber Robertson, founder of the Brazos Valley Blessings page, said local businesses and area restaurants brought food and other donations, and the grassroots relief effort assisted more than 1,000 people Saturday, up from a few hundred on Friday. The effort will continue this afternoon, and Robertson and Peterson said supplies are still needed, as are volunteers.

Robertson said the presence of Spanish speakers helped in terms of communication with some of the individuals who sought assistance. 

“We didn’t want our Hispanic families to be left out when they’re in need just as much as everybody else,” Robertson said. She added that the children and teenagers who volunteered at Peace Lutheran on Saturday particularly moved her.

“I’m overwhelmed with appreciation,” Robertson said. “It is literally the citizens of the Brazos Valley giving whatever they have to help and continue to support.”

She said DoubleDave’s PizzaWorks, Nam Cafe and McAlister’s Deli also donated food to the effort.

Ray Arrington, president of the Carver Kemp Neighborhood Association in Bryan, said Carver Kemp will hold a distribution at its building on West MLK Street this afternoon from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. to begin distributing the numerous supplies that local residents dropped off at Reed Arena on Friday.

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Leaders from the Brazos Valley Blessings Facebook group and Black Lives Matter B/CS organized supply deliveries and gathered essential materials at Peace Lutheran Church in College Station, while Texas A&M students partnered with the Heart of Texas chapter of the Red Cross to gather donated items at A&M’s Reed Arena for the Carver Kemp Neighborhood Association in Bryan. 

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