Bethenny Frankel is pouring herself into Hurricane Florence relief efforts — all while mourning the loss of her on-off boyfriend

By Liz McNeil and Aurelie Corinthios
September 18, 2018 12:13 PM
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Celebrity Sightings in New York City - June 14, 2016
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Bethenny Frankel is pouring herself into Hurricane Florence relief efforts — all while mourning the loss of her on-off boyfriend Dennis Shields.

“The work I am doing for hurricane relief is a good outlet, but I’m trying to not get too immersed and not avoid the grieving process and feeling,” the Real Housewives of New York City star, 47, tells PEOPLE. “I am going through an emotional storm and must go through and not around it.”

“People are suffering way more than I am,” she adds. “People have helped me get through my despair with their love and inspiration and now it is my turn.”

Shields was found dead of a suspected overdose in his Trump Tower apartment on Aug. 10. He was 51.

Now, Frankel says the New York City-based banker inspired her in her ongoing work for hurricane relief. (She helped victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, through her B Strong Disaster Relief program and is now aiding victims of Hurricane Florence through the foundation.)

“He embraced and applauded everything I did and cheered me on from the sidelines,” she says.

RELATED VIDEO: Bethenny Frankel Talks Puerto Rico Relief & Her #BStrong Initiative

Though the hurricane is over, flooding remains a threat, and Frankel says her volunteers are assessing which areas need the most help as they go.

“We are deciding where to land the plane and it changes minute by minute,” she says. “The storm moves, the damage is everywhere, and we are determining where the most dire need is. My team is on the ground and the location changes daily.”

Frankel says she reached out to 10 female celebrities — Sia, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Ripa, Katie Couric, Lea Michele, Lisa Rinna, Erika Girardi, Maria Menounos, Kyle Richards and Erin Andrews — and every one of them agreed to help right away, using their platforms and influence to inspire others to pitch in. According to Frankel, they raised about $125,000 as Frankel chartered a plane to bring supplies to those in need.

On Tuesday, Frankel says she’s bringing her 8-year-old daughter Bryn — who also raised relief money with her classmates — to help on the ground in North Carolina.