HARRISBURG, Pa. -- They’re among the first to arrive during a disaster and the last to leave. These people are neighbors, friends, and sometimes total strangers.
They appear from churches down the street, from different counties, from different states. At times, they seemingly appear from nowhere. They’re called volunteers.
Long after they’ve served countless meals, provided shelter to those displaced by flooding, and begun the dirty work of “mudding” out houses, many of them become part of Long Term Recovery Committees (LTRCs)
LTRCs help extend the safety net for those affected by disasters when all other forms of assistance are exhausted. They are groups whose missions are generally to provide long-term assistance with spiritual, emotional, and physical resources. Many are within the faith-based community and work in cooperation with governmental and other voluntary agencies active in disasters.
“We remain to help people who I call “the least, the lost and the last,” said one Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Voluntary Agency Liaison, referring to those who are left without adequate personal resources for basic needs as a result of disasters.
Tom Young, pastor of the Wesley United Methodist Church in Bloomsburg, said he and members of his congregation have traveled to other states and counties as part of long-term recovery teams. “This time the mission came to us (during the June floods). We probably had about 200 people digging mud out and washing down homes,” he said.
Young is leading the Long-Term Recovery Committee in his county. The Columbia County Volunteer Organization for Disaster Relief has about 15-member groups. “We are just doing the work that is necessary,” Young said. “It was the July 4th weekend when the storm hit, and there was this incredible enthusiasm within the community, and there remains a core of people that continue to be involved.”
Those groups include the St. Columbia Catholic Church, Bloomsburg University, the American Red Cross, Millville Friends, The Salvation Army, Trinity United Church of Christ, the town of Bloomsburg, and the Food Cupboard to name a few.
According to FEMA officials, LTRCs usually get started with “seed” money donated by organizations such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service. Goods and donations come in all ways.
“We have a man whose company donated a steel roof for this house, and he needs our help to find a group that can help him put it on,’ Young said. The town of Bloomsburg has donated $100,000 to the LTRC effort.
A group from Witmer’s Church in Port Trevorton is now working on the flooded home of a single mother with two children. Flood waters between three and a half and four feet caused $54,000 damage to their home, according to Young. “We are tearing out horse hair plaster and installing new dry wall. This will go a long way in helping. There is a long way to go, but we will continue to work and help her,” Young said.
In another case, Young said the Columbia LTRC group is assisting a senior citizen couple with health issues to replace the skirting surrounding their mobile home. “You can’t imagine how much this means to them,” he said.
A good part of the LTRCs mission is case work for the 174 requests that are currently being worked, or are pending.
FEMA and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) officials assist the LTRCs in a very limited capacity.
FEMA and PEMA officials said some of the hallmarks of a well-functioning LTRC are that everyone works for the common good, and there are no hidden agendas.
Other components for successful LTRCs include, “communication, collaboration, coordination and cooperation. Set goals and then meet them,” said...