Helping flood victims

May 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Places

The Worship Network is based in Nashville, TN—a city ravaged by floods last week. But the residents of “The Volunteer State” are pulling together and living up to their nickname, as thousands of people worked together to help the victims this past weekend. Here’s a report from local newspaper The Tennessean.

Volunteers turn out in force to aid victims

By Christina E. Sanchez

One was a dessert baker. Another was a physical trainer. A third was a pastor.

They had different skills, not at all related to flood cleanup. But it didn’t matter.

In what was likely to be among the busiest days of the relief effort, thousands of volunteers dispersed across Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

Pockets of the hardest-hit communities–East Nashville, Antioch, West Nashville, Bordeaux, Bellevue–came up for air to find an outpouring of workers from churches, volunteer groups and disaster relief agencies.

Volunteers fed workers, tore out drywall, counseled distraught flood victims, handed out cases of water and tweeted on Twitter about what help was needed. They made a dent in work that will go on for months.

“There was life-changing damage,” said Catherine McTamaney, a volunteer organizer in East Nashville. “People are realizing how much work needed to be done. The numbers of volunteers just kept climbing throughout the week.”

People came from all over the state, from Fort Campbell, from Chattanooga, compelled to volunteer.

The American Red Cross had recorded more than 1,300 volunteers by Friday. Large congregations saw members show up en masse like Cross Point Community Church, which had more than 1,600 people on Saturday.

Hands on Nashville saw more than 5,100 volunteers log more than 19,000 hours to help out across the city by Saturday. The nonprofit agency has offered advice and direction to thousands more who are organizing their own projects or donations.

“The referrals we have made far outnumber the people we have signing up just through us,” said Lisa Davis, external affairs director for Hands On Nashville. “It’s really neat to see the way the whole community is organizing and coming together.”

In communities like East Nashville–where many people don’t think word got out that the flood affected them–neighbors were taking volunteerism in their own hands. Water had damaged homes in historic Lockeland Springs, East Nashville and Inglewood.

Linda Cato, who has lived in her Russell Street home for 33 years, was reluctant to accept help, but the overwhelming job ahead of her changed her mind.

“It makes you want to cry,” said Cato, choking back tears as 14 people cleaned out her basement. “You can lose something in a flash, but then you have the most wonderful people showing up like this.”

Many groups organized through East Nashville computer listservs, and that’s how Katy Branson spread the word to fellow East Nashvillians that she was holding a bake sale fundraiser. Dozens of people showed up to give her more desserts and items for a silent auction. She will give the money to a volunteer group to buy supplies.

“I am not useful at hard labor, but I love to bake,” Branson said. “When something like this happens, you just want to be able to do something.”

Word goes out to immigrants

In Antioch, Donna Perry-Flores and her husband, Roderigo Flores, a pastor, reached out to Hispanic immigrants. They worry that people have forgotten that section of town, hard hit by the flooding from Mill Creek.

Perry-Flores went on Spanish-language Radio Luz to tell people free assistance is available. She and other volunteers with the Southeast Nashville Flood Relief effort have gone door to door checking on people.

“We found a family living in a house that had been flooded because they didn’t know they could get help,” Perry-Flores said. “We’re cleaning out their homes and taking all the wet stuff out. Then we will follow up spiritually and emotionally.”

Twitter was alive with feeds Saturday–under the tag #NashvilleFlood–from people posting about how to help, sharing stories and impressing how much more aid could be offered.

In Wilson County, residents were told they could donate cleaning supplies, toiletries and furniture at the Prime Outlets mall in Lebanon. Another tweet requested donations from Nashvillians for sledgehammers, wheelbarrows, crowbars and new clothing be brought to the Community Resource Center on Division Street from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday.

A lot more skilled labor will be needed as Nashville and surrounding counties begin to rebuild.

“Entire neighborhoods are just gone,” said Brian Williams, executive director for Hands On Nashville. “To rebuild those neighborhoods is going to take months.”

Need will continue

Williams said donations are needed for masks, construction materials and nonperishable food. Hands On is working with many organizations, including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Goodwill and the Community Resource Center.

“The needs will change as we go through the process,” Williams said. “We’ll just need to keep people interested in volunteering as they go back to work, they go back to school and they go back to their lives.”

Thousands of volunteers turned out to help in Williamson County on Saturday.

Hundreds of people drove into the community to find victims’ homes where they could offer to work. Easels with addresses told them where to go and what kind of work was required.

Rising waters in that subdivision affected more than 100 homes, said Lonnie Castle, an association board member sometimes called the “unofficial mayor.”

Castle estimated that there were more than 1,000 people volunteering in the area. Groups from Bethlehem United Methodist, Grassland Heights Baptist Church, Berry Chapel Road, Oasis and more were teeming at the command center and in homes.

Nash Fleet said his family had to send away four groups of volunteers because their home had already been repaired. Fleet, 19, came home from Tennessee Tech as soon as he could to help his parents out.

“I don’t know how to put it in words,” Fleet said. “I haven’t ever seen generosity like this. It’s overwhelming and inspirational.”


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