$5 Million Gift from Charles Butt Leads San Antonio Giving to Harvey Victims

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Chairman and CEO of H-E-B Charles Butt applauds as kindergarten teacher Ricky Davis recalls the story of meeting his wife while he was employed as a bagger at H-E-B.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Chairman and CEO of H-E-B Charles Butt.

H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt announced on Wednesday he will donate $5 million of his personal money to a Hurricane Harvey recovery fund run by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

The donation came as U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved nearly $8 billion in disaster aid to support hurricane relief efforts, and just as this season’s second potentially devastating hurricane, Irma, bears down on the southeastern United States.

The government’s measure averts a shortfall faced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, which pays for the FEMA’s disaster response and recovery activity. Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that the agency had just $1.01 billion on hand – less than half of the $2.14 billion in the fund the week before.

“It will require years and possibly hundreds of billions of dollars for Texans to rebuild and recover,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) stated after voting in favor of the measure. “This emergency aid is a good start, but Congress will need to pass substantial, additional funding for the Houston area, Coastal Bend, and the Golden Triangle.”

As federal dollars flow to where it’s needed most, San Antonio corporations from nearly every sector, and the area’s most well-known philanthropists and charitable organizations, are also stepping up to the relief table – with jaw-dropping gifts of money and other aid.

In addition to Charles Butt’s donation, total giving by H-E-B to Hurricane Harvey disaster relief efforts is now approaching $3 million in monetary commitments, support of emergency shelters across the state, food bank donations, volunteers and the deployment of H-E-B’s Mobile Kitchens and Disaster Relief Units.

Bill Greehey, through the Greehey Family Foundation, and his company NuStar Energy have made a combined contribution of $500,000 to the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the San Antonio Food Bank. In addition, NuStar employees have so far donated and delivered over 4,000 lbs. of items to the San Antonio Food Bank.

Valero Energy Corporation has provided assistance to about 150 employees in the Corpus Christi and Three Rivers area with food, lodging and other personal needs, and provided repair help and debris removal for nearly 20 employees with damaged homes. The company has said it stands ready to do the same for employees in the Houston area. Valero also announced Aug. 30 it is contributing $1 million to the American Red Cross to assist in relief efforts.

USAA initially donated $1 million from the The USAA Foundation, plus matching employee donations dollar-for-dollar up to $500,000 in employee donations through Sept. 17. As of Wednesday, USAA’s total contribution exceeded $2 million.

Specialty insurer Argo Group organized and funded five shipments of supplies to organizations in Houston, with its San Antonio employee volunteers loading and personally delivering the supplies. A company spokesperson said Argo also made donations to the American Red Cross, the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation and smaller organizations directly supporting efforts in the community close to Argo’s Houston office. Argo also offers an employee matching funds program.

Frost Bank, like other financial institutions operating in the affected region, waived overdraft and non-sufficient funds fees for its customers in Houston, Galveston, Rockport, Fulton and Port Aransas, and allowed some of those customers to make withdrawals at any ATM location without a fee.

A washed up oil tanker is beached alongside a marina in Port Aransas, Texas.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A washed up oil tanker is beached alongside a marina in Port Aransas, Texas.

On Friday, Frost Chairman and CEO Phil Green announced that the Frost Bank Charitable Foundation would donate $1 million to charities assisting those most affected by Hurricane Harvey in the regions where Frost has operations. “That is by far the largest gift the Foundation has ever made,” Green told employees.

Bank of America waived fees, set up a mobile financial center and ATMs in Houston, and donated $1 million through the Bank of America Charitable Foundation to help with near and long-term critical needs and disaster recovery efforts. Bank employees donated another $669,000 to Harvey relief, as of Wednesday, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the bank for a total of $1,338,000.

Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union also waived various fees for customers in the affected region, and pledged $1 million to various organizations assisting in the relief efforts.

At the family-owned Bill Miller’s BBQ, in addition to a $15,000 donation to the Friends of Christus Santa Rosa Foundation to equip a room at the hospital, the company has been serving up thousands of complementary brisket plates throughout the coastal region, hundreds of breakfast tacos to support the South Texas Blood and Tissue Bank, and food for first responders and FEMA workers.

The Whataburger Family Foundation is topping its $150,000 donation to the Red Cross and $500,000 to local food banks with a pledge of another $1 million to the foundation to aid impacted employees with necessities like clothing, food, medical bills and monetary assistance. The company is also working with community partners and nonprofit organizations to help distribute local support, and has established centers in Corpus Christi and Houston that will provide key resources to its workers as they get back on their feet.

C.H. Guenther & Son Inc. delivered pallets of Pioneer Pancake Mix to food banks across the state, and Mercy Chefs used the company’s donated products to help feed residents, volunteers, police, firefighters and game wardens in Rockport, Texas.

Toyota Motor North America announced Aug. 30 it was partnering with Toyota Financial Services (TFS), The Friedkin Group, Gulf States Toyota (GST) and Toyota and Lexus dealers nationwide to provide a combined $3 million to serve the people impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The funds, which will go to organizations such as the St. Bernard Project and Red Cross, include matching contributions, in-kind donations, volunteerism and the donation of pre-owned vehicles.

Brooks has pledged $10,000 toward relief efforts and is hosting a campus-wide relief drive to collect diapers, food, baby formula, hygiene products, unused clothing, and pet supplies for those impacted.

Rackspace continued a legacy that began following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, when founder Graham Weston erected an emergency shelter at its headquarters, by getting directly involved with relief efforts. The company has hosted several blood drives and encouraged monetary donations among its workforce who have also ramped up volunteer efforts with the Red Cross and San Antonio Food Bank.

Methodist Healthcare Ministries donated $100,000 to the Rio Texas Conference’s Disaster Response Fund, and the Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio gave $100,000, divided equally between the Texas Baptist Men and the Salvation Army.

Catholic Charities USA gave more than $2 million it had raised to the organization’s Texas chapters in immediate and long-term disaster response efforts. The Oblate School of Theology’s Hurricane Harvey Relief drive had so far collected $11,715 from donors Wednesday.

Local TV stations WOAI and KABB raised almost $1.5 million in a telethon last week, with the Harvey E. Najim Family Foundation agreeing to match up to $100,000 for the Red Cross and another $100,000 for the San Antonio Food Bank. To reach the total, Najim was joined in giving by Bill Klesse, Bill Greehey, Graham Weston, Joe and Lacie Gorder and H-E-B. He added that donations will be coming from Gambrinus and the Mays Family Foundation as well.

For another telethon, tickets went on sale Wednesday for a benefit concert organized by San Antonio’s own George Strait. Proceeds from the Sept. 12 telethon, “Hand in Hand,” at the Majestic Theater will benefit United Way of Greater Houston, Habitat for Humanity, Save the Children, Direct Relief, Feeding Texas and The Mayor’s Fund for Hurricane Harvey Relief (administered by the Greater Houston Community Fund) through the Hand in Hand Hurricane Relief Fund managed by Comic Relief Inc.

The San Antonio Mayor’s Hurricane Relief Fund, which began collecting donations on Aug. 30 when Mayor Ron Nirenberg introduced the fundraiser at City Hall, has so far collected $12,487. The fund is being managed by the San Antonio Area Foundation (SAAF), and a committee will be formed to determine which nonprofits will benefit.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg announces the Mayor's Hurricane Relief Fund, one of many local initiatives to aid storm victims.

Iris Dimmick / RIvard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg announces the Mayor’s Hurricane Relief Fund, one of many local initiatives to aid storm victims.

SAAF President and Chief Operating Officer Becca Brune expects to see that number grow as will continued annual giving in San Antonio.

“That’s because we’re also receiving gifts from outside of the San Antonio area, from friends of friends who have a soft spot for the Coastal Bend region or Houston, in addition to what we’re receiving from the local community,” Brune said.

“The other piece is that because the Area Foundation is where people open up donor-advised funds, they have a very specific interest that they are wanting, and that giving just continues. This is one of those unique events that, tragically so, spurs compassion in the community and people will give. So we don’t anticipate or supplant our current levels [of giving].”

Stacey Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., also does not expect the current outpouring of generosity to negatively impact other giving.

“That’s often a concern because a hurricane is what it is, like when Sandy hit so close to end-of-year giving. But, except for certain groups, it doesn’t affect overall giving at all,” Palmer said. “Most people think of their disaster donations as an extra donation, and it makes them feel more charitable. They see all these horrible stories of people out of their homes, and it puts people in a more generous mood typically.”

Data from Charity Navigator shows that the majority of charitable giving in the U.S. comes from individuals (72% in 2016). Foundation grants account for 15% of charitable donations, and corporations 5%.

Corporate giving is often tied directly to how the economy is faring, as was evident during the 2008 economic downturn.

“Corporations may have a limited pool of dollars in their budget, in a charitable account or foundation, and if those funds are directed to a large disaster, that may mean there’s less available for other things,” said James Noffke, associate vice chancellor for the UT System’s Center for Enhancing Philanthropy. “At the same time, they are going to fulfill their pledges, they are going to continue to honor those pledges. But to start something new, that’s more problematic.”

The online fundraising website GoFundMe hosts hundreds of Hurricane Harvey-related campaigns currently set up by individuals trying to raise money for friends, family and causes dear to their hearts. San Antonian Eric Whittington is among them. He has raised $3,000 so far to help his wife’s parents after their home was flooded in his hometown of Houston.

Countless area churches, schools and neighborhoods have also given generously. In the Rogers Ranch neighborhood on the Northside, families organized a bake sale and raised over $1,500 for the SPCA of Texas’ efforts to help animal victims of the hurricane.

“I’ve been encouraged by the outpouring of individuals and corporations who have given to support the disaster and recovery period, it’s really heartwarming,” Noffke said.

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