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Image: Todd Spoth

Celine Benavides’s 2-year-old’s birthday party was supposed to take place on August 28. Needless to say, Benavides canceled it, and when she did, she decided to make a request of friends and family: that they send her breastfeeding equipment, bottles, formula, diapers, bags, pumps and other supplies she knew nursing mothers were going to need in the days ahead.

“All that stuff is so expensive,” said Benavides, an L.A. transplant who rode out her first hurricane unscathed in her First Ward home with her family. “These people have lost their homes,” she said. “They already have extra expenses.” Soon, donations were arriving from her network of friends back home in California, as well as her mommy-group Facebook buddies.

“They were coming from people I’ve hardly ever talked to. I’m getting donations from complete strangers,” she said, adding, “I probably shouldn’t be putting my address out there, but I wanted to cut out the middle man.”

With each delivery of donated supplies, she steamed, sanitized and packaged the equipment, then delivered it to local shelters and other community centers. Facebook friends also sent her money, which she used to purchase other much-needed items for displaced Houston parents. (She even got in touch with the manager of her local Target via Facebook, who gave her his employee discount to use.)

“A very large percentage of Americans go to Facebook for their news,” said Benavides, who moved to Houston in 2010 for a job at the Texas Medical Center. “I think there’s a lot of power in sharing a story or sharing an experience. It helps to project a level of empathy, especially for those who aren’t here and don’t see what’s going on.”

Benavides never let the idea that she’s just one person keep her from helping displaced Houston moms get what they need. “A lot of people don’t really want to donate through a website because it feels so impersonal,” she said. “I wanted to be that bridge between the people I could reach in L.A., to make their donations feel more personal. They have an emotional tie to whatever breast pump or bottle they’re donating.”

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