CCSD hurricane help halted as donations stay grounded in Las Vegas warehouse

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) - The devastation of Hurricane Harvey left Houston-area families unable to fill the most basic of needs.  

People across the country stepped up to help, including the Clark County School District.  

Urgent pleas for donations were emailed to district employees, students and families asking for clothes, school uniforms and school supplies to help the children of Houston.  

When the plea went out, the call was answered with clothes, backpacks, diapers, food, water, school supplies and more.  

"Well, everyone wanted to help," said CCSD employee Elena Rodriguez.

"And what was your expectation as to what was going to happen?" Darcy Spears asked.

"Well, we expected everything to arrive to Houston--or later on to Florida once that happened right after--to help these individuals, to help these kids," Rodriguez said.

The donation deadline was September 8 to get all items to the district's Purchasing Dept. warehouse so they could be packed and sent to the Houston Independent School District.  

But more than a month after the deadline, Contact 13 received cell phone video and photos from inside the Purchasing warehouse showing row after row of donations still sitting here in Las Vegas.

By then, Houston had received more help than it could handle.

"So we sacrificed to donate and then I find out--which was extremely heartbreaking--that it never made it there," Rodriguez said.

As they say, the devil is in the details. And in this case the devilish detail was transportation.

"They wouldn't have asked unless they were able to send it out," Rodriguez said.

And that's what you'd think. But that was not the case.

"There was basically no plan to get the stuff to the place where it was intended to go?" Spears asked CCSD Trustee Chris Garvey.

"Well I think that they were hoping they would get donations to get a truck to do that," Garvey explained. "Once you put the call out, you're kind of committed. And then you're just running to try and scramble and find somebody to do it."

We asked the district why they didn't secure transportation in advance.  

Their response came in an email saying they were overwhelmed by the community's generosity, including items received after the donation deadline.  

They worked with the United Way of Southern Nevada to get money from Caesars Entertainment Corporation to send one truckload of items to Houston in mid-October.

But about 100 pallets of donations remained.

"The parents, the students, the employees donated out of the kindness of their heart and now there's a broken trust," said Rodriguez.

"As I kind of looked into things more after your inquiry," said Trustee Garvey, "I found out that we didn't have any protocol in place, it sounded like. So the execution of this whole process didn't go down as we had hoped. The person in charge just said 'hey, let's do a good thing,' but didn't think about it past that."

Things did kick into high gear after Contact 13 began investigating.  

Now, there's very little left in the Purchasing because within days of our inquiry, supplies were sent to schools in Sonoma County, California to help families impacted by the wildfires.  

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky paid for the transportation out of his own pocket.

Trustee Garvey said, "We're going to make sure everything's accounted for and it does go to a charitable organization either here locally or now to Sonoma county, but we have to make sure that this doesn't happen again."

A week after our inquiry, the district sent a memo to school principals telling them what happened with the donations.

"There were no wheels in motion until we started asking questions and lighting a fire under their feet," Spears pointed out to Garvey. "Should it have to be like that?"

"No," Garvey answered. "And you and I both know that sometimes it does take that to get things to happen. And that's a good thing, I think. If we can take this as a lesson learned, that's a positive. And I think it's a good thing that our community is coming forward and saying 'hey, we don't want this to happen this way again.'"

Trustee Garvey says she'll be taking this to the board as a policy discussion to ensure accountability in the future to donors and taxpayers.  

FULL STATEMENT FROM THE CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT:

"Once collected by our schools, the supplies were delivered to our Purchasing Warehouse to be prepared for shipment while the district worked to secure a donation to pay for the transport of the items.

"Working with the United Way of Southern Nevada, we were able to secure funds from Caesars Entertainment Corporation to send one truckload of items to Houston.

"We had so many donations from our generous community that we had even more items, but the Houston Independent School District notified other districts they were at capacity for accepting supplies. This includes many items we received after the deadline we set for donations to be submitted.

"The district is currently working to contact school districts in Sonoma County, California to see if they need the donations we currently have on hand for those who have lost their homes or have been displaced due to wildfires. Superintendent Skorkowsky has committed to paying for the transportation of the supplies to Northern California with his own personal funds, if they are needed.

"If the districts do not need those items, we will work with local charities to donate them to people in our community.

"CCSD appreciates the people who donated these items and we will ensure they go to students and families in need."

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