The Wellness Impact of Unmet Basic Needs During the Texas Winter Storm

Black man holding his black child. Both are wearing winter clothing.

I woke up to darkness.

It was 4am and cold. I peeked out our bedroom window and saw more of the same, nothing. Our neighborhood’s Facebook page told me it was our turn for what were deemed rolling blackouts. My wife, up at this point from all my shuffling, suggested I put our food in a cooler and place it outside.

We assumed the blackout wouldn’t last long since it was planned. We’d heard the average was 30 minutes to 2 hours, but we were wrong. Plans had fallen apart. Someone was slippin’. 

Later in the morning, we sat in the living room thinking our way through the situation. We noticed that our two-year-old daughter, layered in clothing, had cold cheeks and hands. This was enough for us to spring into action. Fortunately, I was able to secure a hotel room for us for two nights – everywhere was booked solid. We packed, set a few faucets to a steady drip, and left.

The scene was bleak as the day crept on.

Lines of hungry, freezing Texans stretched around the block of a shopping plaza, as they waited to enter a grocery store with dwindling supplies and workers worried about their own families. Armed security stood at the entrance, and a photo I saw once in a textbook of a Great Depression soup line flashed across my mind.

Fast food places were mostly shut down, but we grabbed a meal in time. McDonald’s is going to get their money, apocalypse or not. We hopped back on the road to be met with swaying, unlit traffic lights and tractors clearing snow and ice. We held our breath at every major intersection, but thankfully, we made it safely to our hotel. 

That night I went out in search of food. I stumbled upon a CVS. It was a set from a zombie movie. All the Hostess snacks were gone, the cold items were gone, the ice cream and wine were fully stocked. The manager kept reminding us we had 2 minutes left to shop. Back onto unsalted sidewalks.

I passed a few folks on the street who said bars were open, but you had to sit there to eat. Bars were open, during a pandemic winter storm. I passed on that, readjusting my mask and needing to get back to my family.

Door Dash, Grubhub, and every other delivery service would cancel our order 40 minutes after submitting payment, because food places hadn’t set their stores to closed. Refunds were issued, but you can’t eat refunds. No one was prepared for this. Our snacks had to do. We were alright.

The next morning, we canceled our second night – without penalty – after hearing our neighborhood was up and running. We returned home to a warm and powered place but there was still the fear of “will our heat cut out in the middle of the night?” and “are we doing the best to protect our child?” and “how much worse will this get?”.

We didn’t trust the food we left out in the cooler. A quick internet search told us the food was unsafe if it passed a certain temperature, and we just weren’t playing that game with our child. By the grace of God, we were in a position to purchase more groceries, this time more frozen foods and non-perishables. Still, we feared the fridge’s power going out again, and us being back at square one. 

Anxiety is alive and well during times like this. Safety, shelter, food, and water are all significant factors of mental illness. This, added to isolation and trying to protect your vulnerable loved ones, is a wear on the mind and body.

Basic needs matter. Put that on repeat. Shout it from the mountaintops because it seems as though state leadership doesn’t realize this. A trip to Cancun, avarice, resistance to change, privatized utilities management, and what feels like zero empathy has left 14 million Texans without access to clean water, heat, or food.

Consider the communities of color which already receive disproportionate access to mental and physical care, experience environmental racism, and live with inadequate housing options. Consider rural communities already struggling with access to healthcare in the wake of COVID. It’s all a recipe for prolonged suffering, anxiety, and depression. 

What’s helped are the stories of first responders kindly responding to frantic calls regarding frostbite or pipes bursting, the neighbors offering blankets and food to anyone who can reach their door, and the calls and texts from our own friends and family. Just a “what do you need right now?” or a “how can we help you all?” helps calms the fear. 

For now, we’re taking this one breath at a time. We’re stocking up on water when possible and have secured a water filter. We’re keeping our heat low and working to be considerate of others. We’re waiting this thing out and leaning into moments of joy and peace. We dance, we rejoice, we pray, we vent, and we do our best. It’s all necessary, and we’re trying to give ourselves space to do this all imperfectly.

P.S. We’re good on resources and supplies, but others clearly aren’t. Here are tangible ways you can support folks in Texas and beyond.

//Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash

//Originally posted on The Mighty

About The Author

Sinclair P Ceasar III

Sinclair Ceasar is a Christian mental health speaker, writer, and facilitator.

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