Bethenny Frankel jumped into action last year when a string of natural disasters, including hurricanes and earthquakes, ravaged Houston, Puerto Rico and parts of Mexico. But The Real Housewives of New York City star said her efforts are inspired by the everyday people who do all they can to help others in times of need.
“My hero is someone who helps when they feel helpless,” Frankel, 47, told PEOPLE Now in an interview taped earlier this summer. “When they just simply don’t know what to do but figure it out along the way.”
When the devastation in Texas began, Frankel immediately started raising money and supplies via her B Strong Charity Program and her #ThisIsACrisis t-shirt line. Her efforts raised more than $300,000 in supplies and donations, and Frankel herself met with and helped local women and their families.
The relief mission in Houston only motivated and empowered the reality star to do more when a powerful 7.1 earthquake brought Mexico to its knees last September. She and her team went to Jojutla, Mexico, where Frankel provided resources and encouraged those impacted by the quake.
However, when Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico — causing a historic amount of damage and knocking out power to the entire island for several months — Frankel said it was a “very different animal.”
“It was hard for anybody to get relief there. I was told not to go because they had no water, no electricity,” she recalled. ” ‘You can’t go, you’ll get sick. It’s dangerous.’ And I thought, ‘Well, isn’t that why I have to go?’ “
And so she did. Frankel chartered a plane filled with resources and had the items distributed to those in need. Inspired by her efforts, others donated more planes to help.
“It sort of became contagious. It was a beautiful thing to watch people do something because you led by example,” Frankel said.
“Getting involved in crisis relief, it’s changed my life… Puerto Rico brought together so many people for me, especially on this side. Many people in Miami, many people that I know and people who are not wealthy. Nurses, teachers, people who are unemployed, coming together, working 24 hours a day because people understood the gravity of the situation.”
She said seeing the victims cling to their families in the face of tragedy has led her to appreciate, even more, the life she shares with her 8-year-old daughter Bryn.
“Family is so much a part of surviving these things. People feel happy just that they’re with their family, just that they’re alive. People just seem so dedicated to their faith, their religion, their family. There’s a pride. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”
Frankel’s interview was taped before the sudden death of her on-again, off-again boyfriend Dennis Shields in August. The Real Housewives of New York City star just shared a message with her nearly four million social media followers on Instagram and Twitter Friday in the wake of his death, writing, “Thank you,” and a red heart emoji.