BATON ROUGE, La. – Thousands of Louisianians affected by Hurricane Isaac are finding help with their unmet needs through the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) members — groups that arrived before the hurricane made landfall, that kept coming during the rain and flooding, and that will remain in communities for months to come.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has partnered with more than 150 voluntary, community- and faith-based organizations to provide crucial assistance as Louisiana recovers from the storm. FEMA assists the organizations by providing information about available federal assistance programs, offering technical assistance with volunteer management, donation intake and distribution, and helping with unmet needs for the longer term.
"Voluntary groups work together to help survivors get on the road to recovery and to stay on it in the months to come," said Gerard M. Stolar, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for Hurricane Isaac recovery. “Volunteers are the backbone of disaster recovery. They go where the need is. They are the first to arrive and the last to leave when disaster strikes.”
Since Isaac hit, volunteer agencies have worked in survivors’ homes, on the affected communities’ streets and public spaces, and in community institutions to help with the recovery effort. Volunteers have mucked mold and mud out of houses and apartments, and installed tarps on roofs as temporary repairs.
Groups from Louisiana and elsewhere in the country have removed trees and debris from neighborhoods and roadways. Other volunteers have worked at call centers, provided support in offices with data analysis, for example, and staffed emergency operations centers for Louisiana VOAD members.
“Sometimes their work is simple and short term. Sometimes these groups are deeply involved in communities for years,” Stolar said. “Always, the work is appreciated.”
Most importantly, perhaps, volunteers have helped survivors directly first with evacuation before the storm made landfall and then by providing food, water, ice, replacement clothing and household items, and cleaning kits after it passed through. As recovery continues, volunteers are acting as counselors and advisers, staffing crisis and legal hotlines and helping survivors navigate and determine their eligibility for federal programs.
Sometimes the volunteers’ motivation comes from a general sense of wanting to contribute to recovery. Sometimes it’s very personal.
“Unfortunately, sometimes it takes having gone through the experience yourself in order to fully appreciate the sufferings and heartaches of what people are going through at a time like this,” said Father John Tran of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church. “There is a mutual understanding of heartache shared between the volunteers who have been there and the residents now dealing with it.”
Volunteer organizations involved in the Hurricane Isaac recovery effort are not funded by the federal government. Voluntary agencies will continue to help storm survivors and to provide disaster relief services in all affected parishes and any other area in need regardless of the federal declaration status.
Also, if disaster survivors sustained uninsured or underinsured damages because of Hurricane Isaac, they should apply for FEMA assistance as soon as possible even if they have already registered with voluntary organizations. Registering with voluntary organizations doesn’t mean that they have automatically registered with FEMA.
Survivors can register online with FEMA at www.disasterassistance.gov or via smartphone at m.fema.gov. Applicants may also call 1-800-621-3362 or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585. For 711 Relay or Video Relay Services call 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
For more information on Louisiana disaster recovery, click www.fema.gov/disaster/4080 or www.gohsep.la.gov. You can follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/femaregion6 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FEMA. Also visit our blog at www.fema.gov/blog.