🔒 The 2021 winter freeze: When the power went out, these everyday Houston-area heroes offered hope, help

‘Neighbors helping neighbors ‘cause that’s what we do in Texas’

A look at the Houston skyline during this snow day (User on Click2Pins, KPRC)

In February 2021, a brutal winter storm battered the state, overwhelming its power grid and forcing millions of Texans to scavenge for the basic elements for survival — food, water, and shelter from record cold.

Pipes burst, ceilings collapsed and belongings were destroyed. The devastation wrought by the catastrophe upended lives and ended others. In total, 246 people died as a result of the harsh conditions, with causes including hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, car accidents, and fires. The victims ranged in age from less than 1 year old to 102 years old.

Rather than recount the unfathomable destruction and suffering we witnessed a year ago, we want to share a warmer story, about Texans helping Texans. It involves incalculable kindness, countless favors and endless goodwill.

Last year, when we asked our readers if anyone had done them a kindness during the 2021 winter storm, we were inundated with hundreds of accounts praising first responders, local businesses, strangers, neighbors, family members, four-legged companions and, of course, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale. While many of us in the Houston-area were busy keeping ourselves safe, these Houston-area men and women simply did more, whether it was lending a neighbor a helping hand, offering sanctuary to strangers or feeding hundreds of Houstonians.

Here are a few of the Houston-area heroes who offered hope and help during one of the worst natural disasters in the state’s history.

MORE: Here’s how Texans are helping each other throughout the weather crisis

Angela Gratz: “The neighborhood contractors and plumbers that assisted everyone for free in our neighborhood. The neighborhood is over 40 years old and almost every house had burst pipes. They worked in the cold for 24 hours a day just to help everyone. These people are true heroes!”

Carol Venegas: “Our neighbor Gary Adams Sr. We live In Texas City and our lights went out Monday at 2 a.m. and we have have six kids at home. Tuesday night Gary brought us a generator to use. We were able to get all eight of us in one room to keep warm. My husband has only been out of the hospital a couple weeks recovering from COVID. My husband was in the hospital for 23 days and eight of those days he was on a ventilator. Gary was our hero. We were out of power for 65 hours. Gary was our hero before this also. He organized a benefit for us a couple weeks ago. We own a lawn service that we work together. Since my husband was in the hospital, we were not able to work and earn money for our family. So Gary surprised us with the benefit that helped us out so much. My husband is better, but developed neuropathy in his feet from COVID and still has a long road to recovery. We are not sure when he will be able to work but I thank God he is alive and home. I thank God for the help Gary has provided.”

Naszrin Arani's beloved dog Raleigh. (Photo courtesy of Naszrin Arani)

Naszrin Arani: “This is my dog, Raleigh. My home lost power the very first day at around 2 a.m. and by the night it was in the teens in my home because it lost heat super quickly. I am a student and just have him and my parrot of 15 years now. I’ve had him since I was in elementary school. My parrot almost froze to death that first night — Raleigh nudged me awake in the middle of the night and I saw he wasn’t moving anymore — so I had him in my shirt under layers of blankets trying my hardest to keep him alive. Raleigh is not usually a cuddly dog at all but every time I’d start shivering he’d crawl on top of us and lay there until we heated back up, and then he’d go curl back up at my feet. We all survived the first night and the next morning when I saw I had no running water anymore I got them all in my car and did whatever it took to find a way past the road blocks and get out of town. After a few hours of pretty treacherous driving over ice I made it to my folks out of town where there was power. During that lonely night in the cold and dark I was grateful to have my dog, who was so perceptive and loving on a night when I felt so very hopeless and desperate. I know most people would think they’re just animals and nothing more but they’re my little family and I need them just as much as they need me.”

Ann Scholz-Crane: “My pet sitter, Personal Touch Pet Sitting. His only job was to watch our dog which he is extremely skilled at. As temperatures plunged, he made extra visits to make sure things were okay. When we were without power for 30 hours, he stayed overnight to make sure our dog was safe. When a pipe burst the next day, he turned off the water and started the clean up. He is the finest pet sitter in the Kingwood area and we are forever grateful to him. At any point he could have said ‘this is too much and not my job’. Instead, he said ‘how can I help?’”

Jessica Flores: “Joel Barrios in Needville is a true hero! He’s been feeding our community for two days, free of charge. His restaurant was damaged in the freeze and he’s still out helping others. This isn’t the first time, either! He’s just that kind of guy. Support Bayou Boys in Needville as a thanks to Joel!”

Tiffany Blakeslee Coon: “My Kroger team...we opened our doors without power to serve our community in the dark. Customers shopped by flashlights on their phones. Our employees braved the weather to come serve. I want to thank my coworkers for showing up. Thanks to all my team.”

Lindsay Luczak Zalonis: “My husband, Matthew Zalonis, I’m six and half months pregnant and he has done everything in his power to make sure that I am warm, comfortable, and have something warm to eat, as well as hooking up our Keurig to the generator for our neighbors come get hot coffee.”

Kuerig hooked up to a generator during the 2021 winter storm (Image courtesy of Lindsay Luczak Zalonis)

Sylvia Sanchez: “The officer that did a welfare check on my mother in Palacios, Texas. She had been without power since Sunday and I called for them to do a welfare check. After going over there, the officer asked her if she needed anything and she answered “Coffee”. The officer took off and came back with coffee for her (she shared it with her neighbor). The little things do matter. Thank you Palacios PD.”

Ali Cohen: “Katy Fire EMS team. Helped me to hospital with broken wrist Tuesday. Came back three more times with other people and checked on me in the ER.”

Sonja Muniz: “My 7-year-old son has been my hero. He overheard my husband and I talking about the damage a power surge could cause, so every time the power would go out he would run around the whole house to ensure no light switch was on. He also would check on me regularly and ask if I needed him to walk with me to the bathroom with a flashlight so I would not be by myself in the dark. He is going to be a great husband to someone someday. My sweet, sweet boy.”

Desaree Hennis's sister (Desaree Hennis)

Desaree Hennis: “This lady right here. This is my beautiful sister. Her heart is as big as Texas. She took me and my neighbor in when we were freezing. This is a picture I took of her fixing a busted pipe. She has helped all her neighbors who have had pipes busted. She lives in a neighborhood where everyone helps everyone.”

Julie Needham: “We own a pediatric home health agency. One of our patients who is on a ventilator, they needed gas for their generator. When they couldn’t get it, one of our case managers went out, got them gas and brought it to their house for their child, our patient. So they could fuel that generator for his ventilator.”

Karen Holland: “My friends Pat and Helen were absolutely essential to my peace of mind while I had to be sequestered for work downtown at the hospital. They braved the icy conditions driving over to check on my house, my pipes and most importantly, my fur babies! Such great friends!”

Kate Ryan Skubisz: Ciro’s Italian Grill gets my vote! First, they fed the first responders in the Memorial area and that makes them my hero, but then they took it a step further and have had a drive thru pickup of free dinners for the last two nights. They opened this to our community. This was our first warm meal in a few nights. My family was so grateful for their generosity.”

Jennifer Keon: “Liz Hanks in Houston raised almost $10,000 to provide hot meals, water and grocery gift cards to residents in a Section 8 housing complex near her home. They’re getting dangerously close to health emergencies and now will get hot meals for a few days.”

Sarah Ponce: “My husband and his crew bustin’ their butts long hours in the cold working to bring more capacity online at the power plants here in Willis!”

Sarah Ponce's husband (Image courtesy of Sarah Ponce)

Becky G. Steffen: “LaDon Johnson showed true leadership and community spirit even while going days without power and heat for himself and his family in Conroe. He collected and distributed blankets and coats for people in need *before* the cold weather hit. He did Facebook Live videos throughout his family’s ordeal to raise awareness and keep the spotlight on his community. He went door-to-door checking on his neighbors and letting them know where they could find a hot cup of coffee or a place to warm up. He collected and distributed bottled water throughout Conroe. He knocked on doors to check on elderly and disabled neighbors. He is helping people in the community who have busted pipes and damage to their homes. Relentless and tireless commitment to the community. A hero and a role model. Thank you, LaDon Johnson.”

Carole Stothart: “We were without power for 36 hours and we are elderly. Our next-door neighbor, David, came out in the cold every four hours Monday night to fill our generator w/gas. Our only heat was a space heater and he didn’t want us to freeze. I feel he saved us during this harsh weather. Feel so very grateful and blessed to have a neighbor like David E.”

Karri Seeds: “The president of our local water board in Kemah, Matt Wiggins, gave his personal cell phone number out on social media (Facebook page, Talk of Kemah), to residents of Kemah, and offered his personal employees to help the residents that had busted water pipes and any other emergencies or assistance needs. I don’t think the man ever slept during this crisis!”

Cate Bartholomew: “Mattress Mack. Houston can always count on him in a crisis. THANK YOU.”

Juanita Carr: “My husband was doing everything for us. He cooked warm meals for me and the kids outside. He even cooked hot food for the neighbors. He is my love, my hero, my everything.”

Juanita Karr's husband (Image courtesy of Juanita Karr)

Ingrid Gunn Otero: “Animal advocates and rescuers. They have been out in full force all over the state for the last week. Putting themselves in harm’s way to help those who have no voice. Picking up stray animals, delivering resources to those who couldn’t care properly for their pets, helping livestock and wild animals too. Stocking their homes and garages with crates and blankets to take in any and all animals found to get them out of the cold. These folks have hearts of lions are are true heroes. Typically when you find animals in need you will find humans in need as well. They help any and all!”

Lena M Osborne: “My hero’s story. My husband’s boss is Chris, owner of Champ Burger. His employees couldn’t work due to the weather, but he paid them anyway. We paid our overdue bill with that. Then, not only that, but he also took my husband to pick up food and then he dropped my husband and our food off. He was our hero this week.”

Did someone do you a kindness during the winter storm? Did you give someone a helping hand? We’d love to include your stories. Share them with us in the comment section below.

About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.