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 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.”
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 fundraising 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 capitalized 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.