When a deadly Arctic blast pummeled Texas, Kenna Titus, a law student in Austin, panicked about whether she and her partner would be able to keep themselves and their dog warm, and whether friends and neighbors had what they needed.

Related: Texas freeze shows a chilling truth – how the rich use climate change to divide us

Then came the torrent of suffering. A seniors’ apartment complex went without water for days, warming centers closed because of power and water outages, and child cancer patients languished in a hospital, desperate for food.

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“Everywhere I go, I just see people who were completely failed,” Titus said, adding to widespread criticism of Texas elected officials caught cold by the storm. “They were not prepared. They weren’t told to be prepared. There wasn’t any way for them to prepare.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, Titus crowdsourced donations online from her neighbors, risked slick and icy roads to transport soup, muffins and tacos to the local children’s hospital, and handed out croissants, fruit cups and water to people at a cold weather shelter filled to capacity.

“This should not be my job, and the job of my neighbors, to be running around, trying to find bottled water to give to kids in a cancer ward,” she said. “I’m happy to do it, and my neighbors are happy to do it, but it’s just ridiculous.”

As millions of Texans went without safe shelter, clean water or food, good samaritans and mutual aid collectives bolstered by a national outpouring of support tried to fill the vacuum left by officials who fumbled the emergency management of the record-setting storm.