Volunteer turnout strong to help with tornado cleanup

04/17/2012 5:00 AM

08/05/2014 6:56 PM

For a moment Tuesday, there were too many volunteers.

“At one point, we were asking for volunteers not to come because we had run out of locations for them to work,” said Delane Butler, vice president for marketing for United Way of the Plains, the umbrella agency coordinating cleanup efforts from Saturday’s storm.

That shouldn’t be a problem on Wednesday, Butler said, adding that volunteers should still show up.

While there are plenty of volunteers wanting to work, property owners needing help have been slow to register with the United Way.

Part of the problem, he said, is that some of the residents were renting. The property owners — not the renters — have to grant permission for the cleanup.

The United Way set up a station at Oaklawn Community Center, 2937 Oaklawn Drive, for owners to sign permission forms allowing volunteers access to their property. The center will be open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.

“We are depending on property owners to let us know what places need to be cleaned up and giving us permission to send volunteers to their property to work,” he said. “Part of the problem is that many of the people living in those areas were renting and they are having to get the owner to give us permission.”

On Tuesday, 385 volunteers were given tasks of cleaning up; flipping hamburgers to feed residents; unloading trucks filled with rakes, tools and other donations; and cutting and dragging trees away from the sites.

The first thing volunteers receive is safety training.

“They can see all the storm damage pictures they want in The Eagle but until they see it for themselves firsthand, it can be a very emotional shock,” said Mark Stump, the coordinator at the Volunteer Reception Center at Oaklawn. “To see that kind of destruction, many people begin to see and think, ‘My gosh, that could be my house.’ I tell them that is a natural reaction but they need to get past that. We need them there to help. We have seen that reaction in people at Reading, Chapman, Harveyville and Greensburg. They see the pictures thrown all over the yard and entire community and flash back to their own lives and pictures at home. It doesn’t take long to make this personal.”

There have been acts of kindness, Stump said.

Local Lowes and Home Depot stores donated yard tools, wheelbarrows and crates of water.

Koch Industries on Tuesday donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army for the relief effort.

As volunteers come to help, they are asked if they are current on their tetanus shots.

They are also asked to come dressed appropriately – wearing thick-soled shoes, long-sleeved shirts, hats and gloves.

“We haven’t turned anyone away unless they came wearing flip-flops or with a child,” Stump said.

Volunteers must be at least 14 years old; some jobs require the volunteers to be at least 18. And although some yard tools have been donated to aid in cleanup, volunteers also are asked to bring theirs, as well.

Once they go through the safety education, they will be asked to wear color bands to identify them as volunteers. They will also work in supervised groups and will be bused in and out of the disaster area.

The reason?

“We have heard of a lot of looting,” Stump said. “That’s just disappointing. The sheriff’s department has been working very hard to curtail that type of thing. But as the sheriff’s deputies arrive, we want them to be able to see the color band of the day so they will know these people are here for the right reason and being supervised.”

At the moment, the biggest need is money.

“It will be the biggest long-term need for these folks,” Stump said. “A lot of these storm victims are uninsured or underinsured people. One family is still living in a house whose windows are out of the house because they are trying to protect their belongings. They live in the house because there is no option. They don’t have any other safety net.”

At this point, Butler said, the volunteer coordination will be done on a day-to-day basis. He is not aware of any major effort for a volunteer rally on the weekend when more people might be off work and able to volunteer.

“We don’t have anything specifically planned yet but we will continue our coordination on a day-by-day basis at least through Saturday,” Butler said. “We are hesitating to make any long-term push in part because a lot of it hinges on getting property owners to register their needs.”

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