When Texas was hit last February with a historic deep freeze and—thanks to the negligence of our governor and Legislature—a days-long, statewide blackout, most of us were busy enough just trying to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. But many Texans did more, stepping up and lending a hand to those in crisis. Some of them simply assisted a neighbor or stranger. Some committed themselves to helping dozens or even hundreds of others. All of them made one of the most traumatic disasters to ever hit the state less harrowing and, in many cases, less fatal. Here are just a few of the heroes in our midst.
Pearsall pastor Jerry Badillo, drawing on his own food reserves, as well as donated food (including a three-hundred-pound show pig furnished by the owner of a local tire shop), fed hundreds of community members.
The Houston-based organization CrowdSource Rescue drove dozens of generators around the city, providing electricity to those in need.
Bexar County sheriff’s deputies and Southern Wildlife Rehab rescued a caged tiger from a property after a neighbor reported that it was crying in the cold.
Austin middle school cafeteria cook Enriqueta Maldonado prepared dozens of hot meals for those without electricity.
Matthew McConaughey‘s “We’re Texas” virtual benefit concert, which featured Texas musicians Leon Bridges, Kelly Clarkson, Don Henley, Miranda Lambert, Lyle Lovett, Post Malone, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, and George Strait, raised nearly $8 million for victims of the blackout.
When Zoya, a dog in North Texas, fell through a thin sheet of ice into a very cold backyard swimming pool, another dog, Leo, barked loudly to alert their owners, leading to Zoya’s quick rescue. Leo is a good boy.
Todd Nightingale, a fire coordinator for the Texas A&M Forest Service, drove bone-marrow donor Rodolfo Aguilar from the San Antonio International Airport to a downtown blood bank to help a child in need. The trip, which would normally take fifteen minutes, took more than an hour across closed and ice-covered roads. “It was the most important four-by-four chauffeur mission I have been a part of,” Nightingale said.
Meredith Schubert, a nurse at a Marble Falls hospital, her team of fellow medical professionals, and John Loyd, a neonatologist at Austin’s Dell Children’s Medical Center, likely saved the life of Zaylynn Arias, a one-pound, six-ounce baby girl who was born three months premature during the blackout. The hospital didn’t have a neonatal ICU, and because of road conditions, it was impossible to get Zaylynn to a suitably equipped hospital in a timely manner. So Loyd and two Dell nurses drove during the night on dangerous roads to deliver a makeshift NICU to the Marble Falls staff, who kept Zaylynn alive for more than 24 hours until conditions eased up and a helicopter arrived.
A man named Aaron Davis drove nearly 1,300 miles from his home in Tampa, Florida, to the small town of Harper, an hour and a half northwest of San Antonio, with a chain saw provided by his church, to clear fallen branches. The townspeople nicknamed him “the Tampa Chain Saw Man.”
The Fort Hood Military Jeepers, a club of military jeep enthusiasts, drove hundreds of first responders to the places where they were needed. “We totaled five thousand miles between sixteen drivers,” said club member Jared Miller. “We basically ran until we ran out of fuel.”
The indefatigable Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale opened up his Richmond and Houston stores to hundreds of local residents, whom he provided with shelter and food.
San Antonio store owner Bonnie Valdez left nearly 150 cases of water outside the door of her establishment overnight for passersby to take—and then returned the next day and found that more than $600 in cash had been left for her.
This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Cold Weather, Warm Hearts, Can Help.” Subscribe today.