“I realized this is the time to raise your hand and help,” she tells PEOPLE.
The Real Housewives of New York City star immediately started raising money and supplies via her B Strong Charity Program
in partnership with Dress for Success.
“We’ve raised more than $300,000 in supplies and donations,” says Frankel, who arrived in Houston on Saturday to hand out the goods.
“I just started calling contacts. Just, ‘Hi, who do you know? We need socks, we need underwear,’” says Frankel, who also also raised funds via her #ThisIsACrisis t-shirts. (100 percent of the proceeds go toward buying supplies.) “I found a tampon company [Lola Tampons)] that’s a start-up, and they’re giving away 30,000 personal care products. And one of my partners, Arizona Waters, is donating 60 cases of water. Beam [Global Spirits and Wine], another one of my partners, donated $10,000.”
“The Dress for Success building in Corpus Christi was completely underwater, so the first $20,000 dollars immediately went there,” Frankel adds.
Says Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success,”That money helped them get back on their feet so they can help women in the community. Now in Houston, the first phase is to help women who’ve been displaced and take care of their immediate needs.”
Frankel arrived in Houston for a full-day marathon of handing out supplies at the city’s Dress for Success office. There, she met with 200 volunteers to distribute clothing and necessities — including toothbrushes and toothpaste, socks (1,000 pairs from Bombas), underwear, bras, gift cards and gas cards — to more than 500 women and their families.
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“Everybody I spoke to had water up to their waist and had nothing now but I kept hearing ‘God is good’ and ‘I’m lucky to be alive,’ ” she says of her visit to Houston. “I feel helpless and more helpful. I feel fortified by asking for money and bringing it directly to people who have nothing. It’s instant gratification. We saw people who have nothing when they walk in the door abut now they have something. We shared so many hugs and so many tears. They’ve inspired me.
“Even seeing how grateful and positive they were made me realize what a great place it is to donate money because they are all paying it forward and inspiring other women, she continues. “This is the only time that I’ve ever felt that it was appropriate to say #blessed.”
“I hope this will help these women from feeling helpless,” she says. “And any surplus goods will be sent to Florida for families affected by Hurricane Irma.”
Some of her fellow Housewives have also chipped in.
Pal Donny Deutsch donated $10,000, and her boyfriend Dennis Shields‘ company donated $25,000.
“Losing family members, your house being underwater, even losing pets, it’s a very scary thing what they’re facing,” Frankel says.
What inspired Frankel to help? After going through a bitter divorce from ex Jason Hoppy— it wasn’t finalized until 2016, four years after announcing their split — Frankel founded B Strong to help other women with emergency assistance in times of crisis.
“I had just gone through a very bad experience, the worst thing I’ve ever been through,” she says. “And when I got out of that, I realized people are dealing with much worse, and I felt like I had to do something to help. When the hurricane hit, I realized this is why I’m doing what I’m doing. It feels right to connect with the people in Texas.”
Now, she says she feels peace after four years of turmoil. (Earlier this year, Hoppy was charged with stalking and harassing her. He pleaded not guilty and will go to trial Sept. 27 if he does not accept a plea deal.)
“I’m not being driven by what someone else thinks of me or someone’s abusive narrative of me, so I feel free,” she says. “I don’t care about my dating life. I don’t care about my sex life. I care about a good night’s sleep and feeling free and my daughter [Bryn, 7]. Maybe that’s why it’s the perfect time for this work to be in my life.”
As always, she’s aiming high with her goals to raise money for victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, saying, “$500,000 dollars is realistic, but $1 million dollars is the goal — over the next few months.”
“I have a feeling I will come back,” she says of her trip to Houston. “We’re not going to forget about it. It’s a marathon.”
“Bethenny’s dreams are big,” adds Dress for Success CEO Joi Gordon. “That’s what I love about her. She’s unstoppable.”