Unable to return to Houston because of flooding caused by Harvey and frustrated at his inability to help, J.J. Watt opened a modest little online fundraising campaign Sunday afternoon from the Houston Texans’ temporary digs in Dallas.
With a Youcaring account, a pledge of $100,000 of his own money, a goal of $200,000 and a video plea, the Texans’ star defensive end started something that is making him the face of relief efforts in Houston. By late morning Thursday, the effort that began Sunday afternoon had reached a truly amazing level: $10 million, helped along by the latest big donation — $1 million each from Ellen DeGeneres and Walmart. At this point, Watt admitted that he has stopped setting goals.
“I’m going to leave the link open,” he said in his latest video update, “and see how high we can get it.”
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) August 31, 2017
By early afternoon Thursday, it was chugging along, with more than $10.6 million raised. It’s a daunting figure and Watt repeatedly has promised to provide an accounting of how the money is spent and stresses that he wants to help people, in Houston and in the surrounding area, on a one-to-one basis. In one video update, he promised the funds would go to help people in the surrounding areas, too.
“My focus is very much on getting this money directly back to the people, as I’ve said the whole time,” Watt said in a video update Thursday morning. “We have the semi trucks being filled up, coming down here to donate the supplies this weekend. That’s … going to be the first phase of our operation, to get as immediate an impact as we can. We have things like water, food, clothing, generators, baby supplies, cleaning supplies — if there’s something I’m not thinking of, please leave it in the comments [of his Twitter feed].”
Watt’s fund raising efforts were also boosted by Tennessee Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk, who donated $1 million. “Really can’t even put into words a thank you for the Tennessee Titans organization. Mrs. Amy Adams Strunk, a million dollar donation,” Watt said of the Titans, who formerly were the Houston Oilers, in a Twitter video posted Tuesday afternoon. “That’s from a team in our division, one of our rivals. But stepping up for the greater good of the people, I cannot thank you enough.”
Watt cashed in on his position as one of the NFL’s most popular and charismatic stars for the cause, capitalizing on his extraordinary reach to 2.7 million Instagram followers and nearly 4 million on Twitter. As a result, more than 100,000 people have contributed. Now, he faces the task of spending that money responsibly and guarding against rip-offs as he is preparing for the regular-season opener Sept. 10, when the Texans play the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game that is still scheduled to be played in Houston. He’ll have a bit of time to think about that, with the Texans returning home from Dallas on Wednesday and their final preseason game Thursday canceled.
“[T]he tentative plan is Sunday we’re going to have a bunch of my teammates help me out in a few different locations around town to be determined, and we’re going to hand out those supplies,” Watt said Wednesday evening (via ESPN). “We’re basically trying to find (A) the safest areas we can get to — obviously we don’t want to put anybody in danger — but then (B) the areas that need it the absolute most. So we’re going to try and set up — literally, it’s going to be open up the back of a semi truck and start handing out water, start handing out clothes.”
Watt isn’t the only member of the Texans who will get involved, either. “We have plans to go to the George [R.] Brown [Convention] Center and to do things around Houston, I know, this weekend,” Coach Bill O’Brien said. “We definitely will be involved with handing out supplies, trying to help people and just brighten people’s days.”
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