Volunteers Unsung Heroes in Disaster Recovery

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Release date: 
November 19, 2009
Release Number: 

DES MOINES, Iowa -- One resident of Des Moines spent last Thanksgiving huddled in his living room, the only part of his house still livable after the 2008 floods. He’ll spend this Thanksgiving in his transformed home thanks to the efforts of Iowa’s hard-working volunteer agencies.

When this man came to the attention of the Central Iowa Recovery Network (CIRN), his house was a mess; the basement was flooded, the main water pipe had broken, and raccoons were living in the bedroom made accessible when flood waters shifted the foundation. Volunteers quickly moved him into a hotel and started work on the house. They helped him with his application for FEMA assistance and then found him an apartment while United Way volunteers cleaned up his flood ravaged house. His caseworker helped obtain needed medication and set him up with counseling services.

He is just one of the thousands of individuals and families served by the state’s extensive volunteer network of 24 county Long-Term Recovery Committees (LTRCs) and Iowa’s Disaster Human Resource Council (IDHRC), the umbrella agency for additional counties. To date, those volunteer services equate to millions of dollars in labor, case management, donations and grants for $5.4 million.

“The important role volunteers play in disaster recovery is often understated or ignored altogether,” said Marla Potts, Chairman of the Iowa Interfaith Disaster Recovery Network, and IDHRC Co Chair. “Yet when a disaster is no longer front page news, and the immediate needs of most survivors have been met, volunteers are the front line in the long-term recovery effort.”

Non-profit agencies, faith-based and voluntary groups, businesses and concerned citizens comprise the volunteer network that seeks out and works closely with survivors for whom federal and state assistance will not be enough.

“There are legal limits to how much assistance FEMA can provide,” said Kay Phillips, Director of the Iowa Recovery Center. “So when survivors have received all the help we can offer them, they can turn to these voluntary groups for their unmet needs.

“Many flood survivors would never be able to get back on their feet and back into their homes were it not for the dedicated volunteers,” Phillips added.

“It’s important to remember that government can’t do it all,” said Pat Hall, State Coordinating Officer. “We are just one part of a large team that collectively makes a difference.”

A recent study reported that Iowa ranked fifth in the nation for volunteering, with more than 865,000 volunteers donating services worth $1.8 billion in 2006-2008. They represent 37 percent of all Iowa residents. Thousands of these volunteers are still actively involved in cleaning up basements, hauling away flood-damaged items, replacing water heaters and eradicating black mold.

FEMA employs permanent staff to coordinate the efforts of voluntary agencies before, during and after disaster strikes.  They work closely with states, the long-term recovery committees and local communities to build and strengthen the volunteer community before disasters and long after state and federal programs are no longer available.

Iowa’s long-term recovery groups have helped in many ways, including those listed below:

  • Helped an elderly couple submit receipts for reimbursement for a water heater and debris removal from their basement, expenses that weren’t covered under other programs.
  • Obtained funding to house a woman and her husband in a hotel and then an apartment while their home was cleaned up and repaired. Catholic Charities donated funds for the hotel rent and for portable storage for household goods while repairs were being made.
  • Advised an elderly woman on how to fill out her application for assistance. Because s...
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July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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