The Smith County Commissioners Court approved establishing a Disaster Relief Fund, to be used to take in charitable donations if a disaster strikes.

The Smith County Disaster Relief Fund will be managed by the East Texas Communities Foundation, which will pass donations along to local nonprofits, organizations, the county or any other entity that needs the funds for planning and preparation, first response, recovery and rebuilding after a disaster or community crisis.

Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran said the critical time to collect donations is immediately after a disaster hits an area. However, oftentimes, there is nothing set up locally for agencies to be able to collect charitable donations when the public wants to give.

Kyle Penney, president of the East Texas Communities Foundation, said setting up the fund will allow Smith County to respond quickly when generous people want to provide philanthropic support after a community disaster. Creating the fund in advance is also designed to help first responders dealing with a disaster, so as not to create added work of taking in donations.

“It will take the administrative load off of the county,” Penney said. “It will be a single source, ready to go in the event of a disaster without causing any delay.”

Moran said creating the fund costs the county no money, and is a proactive mechanism to provide citizens the ability to exercise their generosity in a time of need when it arises. The relief fund is not made up of county money and is not controlled by the county. But the county is establishing the fund in case it is ever needed.

Each commissioner will recommend two people to serve on the fund’s recommendation committee, along with the Smith County Fire Marshal. The committee members, which will be approved by the East Texas Communities Foundation, will make recommendations on how the money should be allocated.

Penney said the fund is set up to handle all phases of a disaster, including the planning, immediate response and recovery efforts.

“We hope it’s an example for other counties to follow,” Penney said of establishing the fund before a disaster.

Commissioner Jeff Warr said he hoped they would never have to use the Disaster Relief Fund but it will be great to have it ready if it is needed someday.

Moran said creating the disaster fund was Penney’s idea, and falls in line with the county’s focus on improving its emergency preparedness and response in fiscal year 2019.