By: Parker Sanchez
We all watched in shock this year as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria destroyed the homes and changed the lives of people in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Today we spotlight our ISTG affiliate head in Austin, Zuzana Polakova DeBlock, who turned that shock into action and helped restore dignity to the women and girls of Texas who lost so much during Hurricanes Harvey and Maria.
When a natural disaster hits, the last thing on an evacuee’s mind is stocking up on period products or packing a bag with plenty of undergarments. Emergency evacuations, lack of access to laundry, and shortages of necessary products in temporary shelters create situations where women are caught without menstrual products or clean, well-fitting bras. For those who’ve lost it all, maintaining that piece of dignity is vital to their emotional well-being.
Zuzana was able to mobilize immediately in the Austin area, where some Harvey evacuees were relocated due to flooding. She collected 15,950 menstrual products and 200 bras which were distributed to evacuees locally, to people in the affected areas and to partner organizations such as Austin Disaster Relief Network, Central Texas Food Bank, Counter Balance ATX, The Helping Society and Austin Justice Coalition. Zuzana also collected products for evacuees of Hurricane Maria. In total, she collected and distributed 5,316 bras and 45,199 menstrual products
Born and raised in Bratislava, Slovakia, Zuzana lived in the New York metro area for fifteen years before relocating to Austin five years ago. With a background in social work and nonprofits, she had always been interested in helping others, but was particularly drawn to ISTG in 2016. As she recalls, “I felt I had a good general idea about homelessness and issues people face, but after watching a video about homeless women dealing with their periods – it was that duh! moment, recognizing needs particular to women we talk so little about.” A single collection in 2016 became a massive movement in 2017. Beside the amazing response to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, the Austin affiliate she heads has collected over 125,000 products in 2017.
Zuzana’s remarkable efforts in Austin are a family affair. With her husband Roger by her side, she models volunteerism to her 10 and 13 year old boys. What is an “awesome side benefit” of her ISTG work? The fact that both her boys “know all about periods, menstrual products and bras, as they help me sort, pack, count and distribute.”
Unfortunately ISTG is experienced with mobilizing quickly and helping during a time of need. When a natural disaster strikes, ISTG is ready to provide support and utilize our local networks to funnel donations to the affected areas. The geographical spacing of our local affiliates, like Zuzana’s in Austin, help ensure products get into the hands of evacuees as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A huge thank you to EVERYONE who donated products- ISTG was able to donate 345,000 products to evacuees of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Additionally, our thanks to each and every person who made a financial contribution to help us store, ship and distribute products in Texas, Florida, South Carolina and Puerto Rico. Your collective goodwill and willingness to help meant that thousands of girls and women had the products they needed when they lacked access. Thank you!