Rebuilding Houston: Tech Tools Connect a City to Shelter, Food, & More

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Safety office to get a new ID card. Hamilton says a local company adopted a pregnant woman and her five kids; their home was already sprouting mold just a few days after Harvey passed through.

Another woman, who had to evacuate from her home, sent her children to live with their father so they could avoid staying in a shelter. She asked Hamilton for legal advice: “Am I going to lose custody of my kids because Harvey made me homeless?”

So far, they have heard from 1,900 displaced people. Hamilton says she and the other tech volunteers want to pass the baton on to four or five local nonprofits that can continue this work in the months and years to come.

That’s what’s happened with an effort called, a website where commercial kitchens could donate food to evacuees, first responders, and volunteers. The Midtown Kitchen Collective sprang up as Harvey made landfall in Houston to receive donations and prepare food that, toward the end, was being delivered by Lyft drivers.

Matthew Wettergreen, a Rice University lecturer and founder of product design firm Data Design, helped to develop the site, citing the Chicago Board of Trade as an inspiration “Somebody has frozen OJ and someone else needs frozen OJ,” he says.

More than 250,000 meals later, the group—which included Rice University colleague Amy Kavalewitz, PR consultant Jonathan Beitler, and Claudia Solis, an events consultant—turned the website over on Monday to Second Servings, a Houston nonprofit that accepts uneaten food from hotels and other venues and gives it to nonprofit meal providers that serve the hungry. Barbara Bronstein, the charity’s founder, says the effort has introduced them to both new donors and new groups that need help.

The Kitchen Collective’s work is already having an impact beyond the Texas Gulf Coast. The “Disaster Plan for Restaurant Communities,” a Google document they created that illustrates step-by-step how to set up a similar operation, is being used in Florida in response to Hurricane Irma.

One of the major tasks post-Harvey is getting displaced people into housing. Kasita, an Austin-based tiny home builder, is talking with FEMA to see how the startup could help. “There’s going to be a huge need for units similar to ours,” says Mike Martinez, Kasita’s public … Next Page »

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