When city services shut down, four Austin influencers stepped up to bring thousands of free meals to the community.
As Winter Storm Uri left residents across the city without power and water, Mylk Collective founder Chelsea Hughes, Cara Caulkins of Cara Caulkins Communications, A Taste of Koko food blogger Jane Ko and 365thingsAustin Kristy Owen knew they needed to use their platform to bring help to fellow Austinites.
By Monday, Caulkins was contacted by Deep Eddy Vodka to begin coordinating with restaurants that may have leftover food to give to those in need.
Knowing that both Hughes and Ko had raised money during the hectic beginning of the pandemic, Caulkins contacted them to help get the ball rolling.
The trio, alongside 365thingsaustin's Kristy Owen, made a GoFundMe last Wednesday and began organizing a restaurant network that spanned across the city. Ko, who has covered the local restaurant scene for about a decade, said that she contacted at least 150 restaurants as they looked for candidates. Early volunteers, including The Peached Tortilla owner Jerry Silverstein, cooked their leftover reserves with a gas oven in the dark as they continued to have no power.
Three days later, the Winter Storm Relief Fund had raised over $100,000 in funding, passed out thousands of free meals to residents in need, and teamed up with dozens of local restaurants.
The outreach served more than just those without food to eat during the storm. Hughes said that providing free meals served as a boost for both citizens in need and restaurants who had lost money on a frozen Valentine's Day weekend and were sitting on a stockpile of food.
"Our mission was twofold: feeding the public and underserved communities, hospitals and ems workers but also giving back to the rest who have lost so much throughout this pandemic and with this truly historic storm," Hughes said. "Our mission is also to continue whatever this rebuild process looks like and to continue to be a resource for whatever restaurants that need this."
They soon learned that Austin's water utility also gave out later on in the week, but many restaurants still needed to feed and pay their employees as the crisis began to worsen. Ko said that it was heartwrenching to hear back from eager volunteers who had gone to their food trucks or restaurants and found broken pipes, unusable kitchens and water damage.
"It was heartbreaking to me to have restaurants and food trucks reach out to me and then check on their food truck and say, 'I'm sorry Jane, our pipes are busted we can't cook," Ko said. "They have families they need to take care of."
Eventually, the three discovered specific pockets in the community that were suffering more than others in the disaster. In far north and southwest Austin, communities had been without power or water for days. Some populations had no transportation to get to water distribution hubs, and hospitals and EMS workers were falling apart as they spent days without power or water. Alongside their partners, the group visited hospitals and first responder locations with free, warm meals from various restaurants.
Rumors spread of apartment complex residents drinking pool water during the disaster, homes flooding irreparably, and many living in subfreezing conditions for much of the storm. Hughes said the incident was eye-opening to how privileged many in the community, including herself, are on a regular basis.
"It was the first time in our lives that we had to wonder how we were going to get our next meal and how we are going to be warm and how those basic needs are going to be met," Hughes said. "It made me realize how underserved certain communities are. This is a moment in my life where I know I always want to use my contacts now to be a resource to help underserved communities in my city."
When the situation progressed, the community doubled down and began donating more. In three hours on Wednesday, Ko said the GoFundMe had already reached $10,000. By Thursday, funding swelled to $70,000, surpassing its goal by over $50,000 and sitting above $150,000 into last weekend. On Monday of this week, Ko estimated that the group had helped coordinate over 30,000 free meals.
The GoFundMe was not the only source of donations going into Austin area restaurants. After Deep Eddy communicated with Caulkins, the local brand began sponsoring restaurants on its own to provide hundreds of meals at a time. Large local companies such as Kendra Scott and Bumble came in to help, while national brands like Red Bull also funneled their contributions into the community.
"This really speaks to the power of social media," Caulkins said. "We were able to raise these funds and also allowed these platforms to be a community resource."
Although water has been restored, the boil-water ban has been lifted and temperatures are way above freezing, the recovery process is not over. In addition to restaurants and businesses losing money, the city will have weeks of repairs and damages to fix before the storm becomes a distant memory.
The remaining funds that went unused have since been donated to Good Work Austin, a kitchen program that aims at feeding underserved populations.
All the influencers have hopes that things will change within the community as residents continue to band together to rebuild and repair what was lost to Winter Storm Uri. Caulkins said that she wants the disaster to continue the trend of young, passionate members of the community taking city leadership positions.
"I think we're seeing a lot of younger voices and I think that's also something that things like this show," Caulkins said. "It would be great to see that continue because we're maybe a little bit more in touch with what is happening around us and wanting to make a difference and hopefully that will make an impact on city officials that are representing us in the future."
Despite the disaster, Ko said that the huge outpour of donations and volunteers that came through in the worst of times is exactly what makes Austin special.
"I love Austin, and I think this is what makes the city so great, that you have citizens like us that are willing to step up," Ko said. "Many, many people stepped up during this time. While Texas is strong, I think Austin is stronger."
The time has finally come, Austin City Limits fans. Try to contain your excitement—there is still lots of prep work to be done.
Festival crews began setting up in the park last week, giving hope and excitement to ticket holders. With just a few days left until the festival's post-COVID debut, use those jitters to plan out the best possible festival season.
Whether it's your first time or you're an ACL veteran, here are a few tips to keep in mind while you prepare for the music.
Don't miss a beat:
What to bring
First things first, put on that wristband before leaving the house so there's no chance of losing it. Also, just as important as your wristband to get in, all attendees must show a negative COVID-19 test obtained within 72 hours of entering the festival. Fully vaccinated attendees may show proof of vaccination instead of a negative test.
Now to the fun stuff.
Pack light. I repeat, PACK LIGHT because you're going to be doing a lot of walking and moving around. That said, there are a few light creature comforts that will make the sizzling sun bearable, starting with a seat: a foldable chair, picnic blanket, whatever, but you'll want to have a place to camp out while waiting in-between sets or enjoying a bite to eat.
If you bring nothing else, make sure you bring a reusable water bottle. Hydration is crucial and water refills are free at ACL, with stations to fill you up all over the park, so save your money on plastic bottles by bringing one.
Sunscreen is a must, especially if you're planning on making it through a full weekend. Lather up but remember that it's not in an aerosol container and weighs less than 3.4 ounces. It's always good to have a bandana on hand, you never know when you might need one, but you can always grab a freebie from festival vendors.
Expect your battery life to be drained from posting on social media and trying to find friends in the crowd. Do not forget a cell phone charger. This year ACL will have antennas through MatSing, which means the typical WiFi challenge will be partially alleviated. You can pack it all in a one-pocket fanny pack, which doesn't have to be clear if it's smaller than 4.5" x 5.5" or any clear bag smaller than 12" x 12" x 6."
What NOT to bring
The ACL gods have spoken and they said no coolers, glass containers or hammocks are allowed. You can bring in a point and shoot camera but ACL prohibits anything with a detachable lens—in fact, the festival prohibits all professional photo and video equipment.If it's illegal, it is probably prohibited. ACL is not allowing any e-cigarettes or vape devices, outside drinks, tents, spiked jewelry, fireworks, bicycles, pets, umbrellas and selfie sticks are all prohibited. Read the full list of illegal items here.
How to get there
Trying to park at Zilker or anywhere close to the park will leave you disappointed—unless you purchase a third-party parking pass, such as at Chuy's on Barton Springs for $100-weekend parking—so it's probably best to nail down another mode of transport because streets nearby will be blocked off.
More likely than not, you'll still have to do some walking if you take an Uber, which partnered with ACL as the official rideshare app. Drivers have designated pick-up and drop-off zones that are often a trek away from the action. Plus, with high demand comes high prices, so you'll need to factor it into your ACL budget. When you're ready to head home, you won't be able to call an Uber until you pass the river, South Lamar Boulevard or the Frontage Road.
Depending on where you're coming from, it may be best to park downtown and shuttle over to Zilker Park. ACL has historically held free, quick and easy shuttles that pick up attendees, bus them all the way to the Barton Springs West entrance and drops them off at the end of the day. You can catch the shuttle at Republic Square Park downtown starting at noon on Friday and 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. CapMetro also has bus routes around the city that run to Zilker Park, like MetroRapid Route 803.
Biking and walking 🚲
You won't be able to take your bike inside the festival but bike parking is available on Stratford Drive after crossing the Mopac Pedestrian Bridge and on Toomey Road at Sterzing Street and on Azie Morton Road.
How to survive the heat
(Roger Ho for ACL)
You're going to sweat, so make peace with that. Luckily, this year's forecast is calling for relatively mild temperatures. Now that that's out of the way, you can stay cool by dressing light, staying hydrated and giving yourself time to rest in the shade, which is where all the "must-brings" come in handy. Keep attire light and breathable, a hat or a bandana to keep the hair out of your eyes and a pair of sunglasses on hand. (Pssst… Don't miss our ACL style guide!) Make sure to take breaks and explore the air-conditioned areas of the park—the merch store and beer hall offer respite from the sweaty exterior.
What to eat
Like every year, ACL is bringing in only local restaurants, so you know you'll be eating well. Prepare yourself for a mark-up while you're there—there are plenty of restaurants around the Zilker area and on Barton Springs Road that you can sneak out to if you don't want to pay festival prices.
If you are going to eat at ACL, this is a great time to try something new because you can visit Torchy's any ol' time. Why not try Taco Bronco or Tamale Addiction if you're in the mood for Mexican food? It wouldn't be Texas if The Original Black's Barbecue or Micklethwait Barbecue weren't on the list, it wouldn't be trendy if you couldn't get a bodega-inspired snack from Wicky's Walkup, and it wouldn't be greasy festival food if you couldn't get a mac and cheese stuffed grilled cheese from Burro.
For your sweet tooth, Skull & Cakebones serves spooky sweets just in time for fall, Lick Honest Ice Creams creates creamy masterpieces with local and organic ingredients or if you're trying to stay mobile, pick up a handheld pie from Tiny Pies.
How to maximize your time
Don't go into the festival blindsided, lest you miss shows that are important to you. The first step in enjoying the festival to its fullest is by familiarizing yourself with the artists—a big part of ACL is discovering new favorites and up-and-coming musicians. This year, almost 20 local artists are performing and the worst feeling is discovering an artist that you could have seen at ACL.
Next, map out which artists you want to see with ACL's daily schedules. Though ACL has yet to unveil its new version of the app, previous versions allow you to schedule reminders for shows you wanted to see.
Don't forget to download the app prior to the festival—ACL can alert guests of set changes, weather and festival news in real-time.
Who to see
Miley Cyrus brought Billy Idol to the stage at this year's Lollapalooza. (Charles Reagan for Lollaplooza)
Miley Cyrus brought out special guest Billy Idol during her Lollapalooza set to perform their duet "Night Crawling," so ACL guests might get a two-for-one. Tyler, The Creator, took the Lollapalooza set with a theatrical performance that relives his past eras. The queen of Hot Girl Summer, Megan Thee Stallion, successfully got the entire crowd on their feet. It's important to keep in mind that some of these artists might be nearing retirement, like George Strait, so seize the opportunity to catch rare acts live.
There are some local treasures you don't want to miss—Black Pumas, of course, a band that needs no introduction and has its own holiday in Austin; Dayglow, an indie-pop project put on by frontman Sloan Struble; Nané, a thoroughly-Austin band formed from UT students Ian Green and Daniel Sahad, Dayglow drummer Brady Knippa and Black Pumas keyboardist JaRon Marshall; and Sir Woman, a solo project by Wild Child singer Kelsey Wilson.
Ultimately, who you decide to see is up to you but know that you won't regret branching out. You may not love every new band you see but you're bound to find at least one new jam. From the biggest stages, Honda and Lady Bird, to the smallest BMI and VRBO stages, there is a show to enjoy on all of them.
The festival will be here before we know it!
Two of Texas' top 10 most wanted fugitives were arrested this week, one of which was captured in Austin, a gang member by the name of Edward De Los Santos.
De Los Santos, a 43-year-old affiliated with the Tango Blast gang, was arrested at a South Austin hotel on Sept. 22 by the U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, Texas Department of Public Safety Special Agents and the Austin Police Department.
De Los Santos was wanted for continuous violence against family members, assault with injury, possession of a controlled substance and evading arrest with a vehicle. The Tango Blast member was added to the Most Wanted list on Sept. 2 and has been convicted with multiple accounts of aggravated assault, burglary of a habitation and aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in the past.
The other, 51-year-old Moises Calderon, was arrested for affiliation with the Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos gang on Sept. 23 in an apartment in San Antonio.
Calderon has been in and out of prison since 1991, when he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years before being let out on parole in November 2014. He has been wanted since violating his parole in October 2020.
Both of the gang members were located thanks to tips, which Texas Crime Stoppers will pay out. Texas Crime Stoppers is funded by the Governor's Criminal Justice Division and pays out cash tips to those who provide information that leads to an arrest.
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Heading to Q2 Stadium? Four months ago, it would've been tough to do so without dropping a pretty penny, but by mid-September, season ticket holders were clamoring to sell their seats for as little as a $10 beer.
While Austin FC continues to sell-out crowds—their most recent match was at capacity despite their record and scheduling conflict with a Texas Longhorns game—demand has dipped as new factors continue to pull down prices.
Austin FC's rocky season has been met with unbridled fan support, but it's also lost that honeymoon-phase traction as they fell to the bottom of the standings, faced a third COVID surge and were met with school, work and good ol' Texas football.
On Sept. 15, Austin FC fan Tanis Olvedo was willing to strike a deal: two beers for a ticket.
Austin FC went from $200+ tickets to this 😪 we down bad pic.twitter.com/Q3yOr7UBiC
— Darth Concha (@davidhidalgo44) September 15, 2021
Although he later sold at cost to another season ticket holder, many fans have seen the value of their season tickets take a serious dip. By Wednesday, Sept. 15, tickets that were once no lower than $36 had dropped to as little as $14.
Austin Anthem member Phil Stanch used his accounting skills to map out the dip in his ticket sales prices.
Phil Stanch found that the predicted value of his season tickets (in orange) will continue to trend downward. (Phil Stanch)
Here are the main reasons why fans say Austin FC's ticket prices have taken a tumble:
Austin FC's first home game on June 19 seemed like perfect timing—by June 16, 51% of Travis County residents were fully vaccinated. Mid-May saw Austin lift its risk-based guidelines to Stage 2 for the first time since the pandemic's onset just in time for the brand-new Q2 Stadium to open at 100% capacity.
But with the third surge sending Austin back into Stage 5 and hospitalizations skyrocketing in late summer, some diehard fans reluctantly began opting for the couch over a 20,738-capacity stadium.
That safety-consciousness comes tenfold for parents of young children who are still ineligible to get vaccinated, at-risk fans and the older population.
School starting and unvaccinated kids. That’s why we haven’t gone in a while. We are season ticket holders, so we have just given ours away to friends and coworkers that can go.— jae (@jae98342926) September 23, 2021
Austin has stuck to capacity and hasn't added any masking or testing requirements, garnering some criticism from fans.
I stopped going because of the COVID surge. I tried to sell my tickets a couple of times and they didn’t move. Then I decided to eat them to make space. Not happy the club didn’t create a mask or vaccination requirement.— Ruben Cavazos (@rcavazos) September 24, 2021
Just as the surge reached its peak in mid-August, schools across Austin once again opened in-person, leaving many families unable to go to late-night games on weeknights. Ten of the club's 17 home games have been on Wednesdays, Thursdays or Sundays—days that have quickly transformed into "school nights."
With 9-5ers unable to justify 8:30 p.m. weeknight games and kids tucked in bed by 10, fewer fans have been able to make their way to the games.
And with school comes another conflict of interest- tried-and-true Texas football is fully underway, and though Sept. 18 saw a sold-out crowd, a few Verde seats were left empty as the two teams played at home at the same time for the first time.
A combo of a number of things:— Tom H (@hallockitup) September 23, 2021
- Wednesday or Sunday games that end around 10pm are not appealing to people with jobs or kids.
- Being in last place hurts, no matter how passionate people are about the team. Nothing on the line.
- This is still Texas, and it’s football season.
While COVID and fall responsibilities have played a factor, Austin FC is also dealing with the unfortunate reality of being a last-place team.
Season ticket holder Doug Mayo was one of the 4% of season ticket holders who didn't renew his deal with the team. Once confident that he would easily sell the coveted tickets for their original price, the team's record plummeted alongside his own ticket prices. Mayo said that the team's 5-4-16 record caused their honeymoon phase to end prematurely.
"The newness wore off fast," Mayo said. "Nobody wants to go to a sporting event when it's 99% certain the team they support will lose."
For Mayo, it'll take a better record and more passionate play on the field to get him back in the 20,000-member season ticket waitlist.
"Mainly (I want) them to start acting more like a professional team," Mayo said. "We were so excited to have something to look forward to throughout COVID and it's just been a disappointment."
I've been a big supporter in general, I went to 4 games in the first half of the season, but no amount of "fan camaraderie" makes me want to spend $30-40 to see a team that plays without heart. And that's bc the last game I saw we actually won (albeit Houston was down a man).— Brown and in Austin (@DisraelTV) September 23, 2021
Still other reasons abound: some fans say it's those $10 beers themselves that cause prices to dip, while others say tickets were overpriced in the first place. Although Austin FC says 96% of season ticket holders decided to renew for 2022, many did so with a grain of salt, including longtime fan Shawn Collins.
"I have tickets in 110 (the Lexus Club) and even when the demand was crazy high I couldn't get face for my tickets because they were so high to begin with," Collins said. "When I got them I figured I'd make back what I paid on games I couldn't attend."
Austin FC's dip in ticket sales may be more of an MLS problem than a unique issue: gameday employee and University of Texas sports business student Ben Patterson said that prices shot up due to pre-season excitement and are now at more normal levels.
"The initial hype of finally having a pro sports team is likely what drove up season ticket prices at the start of the year," Patterson said. "Now that excitement has cooled off, ticket prices have dropped in value steeply."
But while five straight losses are enough to drive at least some fans away, plenty are committed to staying Verde through thick and thin.
It might not be easy being green, but thousands of fans are now enjoying the benefits of $20 tickets as they continue to pack Q2.
Let's not question why tickets are NOT expensive.
Let's just keep buying tickets at $20. Whaddaya say? https://t.co/HkhOjczzZJ
— AC (@Arc34_) September 24, 2021
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