A small crowd of people bustle around a city-owned warehouse on Mayhill Road. 

Some stack boxes, others help unload an SUV full of nonperishable food, and everyone looks ready for action.

It's been more than a week since Denton was plunged into a freeze that caused power outages and water shortages. Now, leaders and volunteers are in their shirtsleeves. It's nearly 80 degrees, but Denton Grassroots Water Crew is getting ready for a large-scale relief distribution thanks to the goodwill of locals, cash donations and a relief nonprofit with connections to food, water and other materials. 

"We're kind of in a holding pattern right now," said Water Crew co-founder Randi Skinner. "We're waiting for the trucks to get here with water."

Last week, Denton joined the rest of the state in a weather-induced crisis that left tens of thousands without power and water. On Tuesday afternoon, the water crew and the city had teamed up with Operation Airdrop to bring at least two semi-trucks full of water and more shipments of food, baby items and paper goods. 

"Today is a logistics day," said Keely Briggs, a former Denton City Council member and mayoral candidate who joined locals last week in an effort to bring water and other items to at least 1,000 people. "We're holding off on asking for community help because we don't want what we're doing to affect grocery stores just as they're restocking their shelves. There are still shortages, and we don't want to make that worse by asking for people to buy items to donate to us. What we're getting is coming from suppliers."

Skinner said residents and businesses can "shop their own pantries" or workplaces for canned, packaged food that's not expired, or bring unopened bottled water often bought for meetings and conferences. 

Briggs said the Water Crew has identified 12 large communities in Denton County that are still without water. As plumbers race from job to job fixing burst pipes, some residents are forced to wait until their properties are fixed.

"Our plan is to have volunteers help unload the trucks when they get here, put boxes of items together and then drive to locations, so then the residents of those communities can get them," Briggs said. "We talked about having people drive-thru here, and we'd put the boxes in their cars. But then it made more sense to take it to the communities, where we have contacts, and have people get it there."

Operation Airdrop is a relief agency that formed in Denton in 2017 after locals wanted to help Texans after Hurricane Harvey. The group pledges $5,000 to help Denton County residents, and the Cajun Navy, a fleet of volunteer boaters from Louisiana, pledged another $5,000 to get supplies to Denton and the county. 

"Since we started our charity here in 2017, we felt like we wanted to give back," said Doug Jackson, a co-founder of the nonprofit. "We started at the airport here. So we felt like we wanted to give back to the community that helped us get started."

Operation Airdrop specializes in shipping and began as a group of pilots who had the means and the ability to get relief to the needy, and fast.

"Think of us as a redneck FedEx," Jackson said. "Imagine if this facility right here was at an airport. People would bring donations to the airport [for Hurricane Harvey's stranded, waterlogged survivors]. We'd put it in an aircraft and fly it down to people who needed it when the roads weren't open. As soon as the roads opened up we weren't going to be doing that, but working in other ways."

Operation Airdrop put in an order with Sysco, the behemoth supplier that keeps restaurants in appetizers, entrees and desserts. The bottled water was donated, and each truck will cart 40 pallets of water, each pallet with 1,700 bottles in it. 

"I'd say that $10,000, that ought to serve a thousand people," Jackson said. 

Briggs said the group was careful to order food that doesn't require a lot of water during cooking. 

"People don't have water, and we don't want the little water we can get to them to get used up too quickly," she said. 

The water crew has also been coordinating with Denton ISD school counselors, who they say have been "a huge help" in locating neighborhoods in need.

Volunteers said they felt compelled to help out.

"I volunteered because I'm a social worker, and that's what we do," said Anne Scaggs, who planned to teach an online virtual class to her social work students at Angelo State University. 

"It's one thing to talk about it, but it's another thing to watch how it's done," she said. 

Kyler Dawson said he wanted to do something to make the dark days lighter.

"I love the outreach in the community like this," he said.

Kristin Sha Boyd, a Denton resident who is a co-founder of Denton Recommends, said she jumped in because she could connect people. Denton Recommends is a networking group that brings people together for education, networking and philanthropy.

"I've got a lot of networks, and that's what was needed to make this happen," she said.

Skinner said the initiative will probably continue through Friday, and that the group needs lots of volunteers.

"We welcome anyone to come for as long a they can help, even if that's 30 minutes," she said. "But we're asking people to look at four-hour blocks, because you can come, learn how to do what's needed and then help other volunteers jump in. You can come in, get trained and then jump in to the next thing we need to do or train the new volunteers. It's the pay-it-forward volunteer system."

The group needs hands to put boxes of aid together, but they also need horsepower.

"We need trucks, trailers [and] individuals who can help load them up and take them to the communities," Briggs said. 

"As people come in, we'll need people to help them out," said Sheryl English, a volunteer and leader with the Water Crew. "We still have people who don't have water, which is baffling to me. It just blows my mind. And of course, those are people who are elderly, people with children." 

English said the growing relief initiative started on social media. Facebook users offered to help in existing group pages, and people on Nextdoor, a social media platform that connects people based on where they live, got the word out. She called Skinner "a rock star" who marshaled disparate networks together for a single purpose.

"That just shows the community spirit," English said. "That we can just jump together. We can come together in such a quick moment and just take charge and just come together and pool our resources. That's who we are." 

Volunteers can get updates at the Denton Grassroots Water Crew Facebook page, or they can report to the city warehouse at 651 S. Mayhill Road. 

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.

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