After the Storm

Submitted by Diane Brownlee, AR Episcopal Disaster Relief Team Committee. Email her at ar.edrt@gmail.com.

On Sunday, April 27, 2014, with the appearance of another tornado following a path seemingly established three years prior, residents of central Arkansas searched for ways to facilitate resource distribution for the inhabitants in Conway, Mayflower and Vilonia, Pulaski County, and outlying rural areas.

Following the initial responses by the Faulkner County community and neighbors, clear evidence began to be circulated about the survivors of the storm who had not been identified. As the FEMA deadline for assistance responses began to get closer, many in the faith-based communities were reporting that there remained a number of persons who still had not been able to get to a state of independence in order to go forward. Undocumented residents, the elderly, persons with handicapping conditions, the underinsured or the not insured still were in evidence. Some of these had avoided contact with the representatives of the federal emergency management agency purposefully. Some had assumed that others needed more help than they. Still others had no way of feeling confident to fill out the necessary forms accurately and were given instructions but had not followed them, missing deadlines.

So, as the Disaster Recovery Centers manned by FEMA announced a closure for June 14, plans for long term assistance began to formulate in order to cover those underserved who lived in parts of Faulkner County not under the watch of the previously organized Vilonia Long Term Recovery group of 2011.

In May, a meeting was called for community partners and faith-based representatives of Faulkner County outside of Vilonia. The purpose was to begin to form a LTRG Board which would oversee long term recovery goals in the following areas:

  • Resource development to benefit individuals and the community.
  • Case work and assessments to identify family needs and facilitate appropriate provision of resources to meet those needs.
  • Volunteer coordination.
  • Spiritual and emotional care.
  • Advocacy on behalf of disaster survivors who had unmet needs.
  • Donations management.

A group of about 30 individuals, representing faith-based and community organizations, including a member of the experienced Vilonia Long Term Recovery group as advisor, met through the summer in order to establish the Inter Faith and Partners Disaster Alliance of Faulkner County complete with mission statement, by-laws, a board, and a Tax-Exempt and IRS 501(c)3 status. Direct donations from the United Methodist Church’s Committee on Relief, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Catholic Charities of Arkansas, Lutheran Church and Presbyterian USA Churches allowed for organizational efforts to happen quickly. Using guidelines and training provided by Church World Service Organization, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), and others, the work continued as office space and materials were secured for a paid professional whose job it would be to oversee the day to day delivery of services. The work envisioned was expected to exist for a year or more as people were returned to houses and as the community resurrected itself as this was the goal for the sake of the community and its residents, the children in the schools and the adults in their homes. The mission of the group states: “We provide spiritual, emotional, and physical resources to those affected by the disaster. We seek to respond to needs not met by other relief systems or disaster recovery programs.”

New to this task of long term recovery processing in our state is the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas and the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund. Donations to the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund had been distributed to survivors immediately following the storm, but there was an expressed desire to seek ways to reach out to those marginalized by the disaster. That is where this work came about. In order to remain in touch with those surprised by life’s turns, to help those in need to be respected, and to acknowledge that all need a helping hand at some time, this work continues.

Furniture, household goods, and monetary donations continue to be accepted and distributed. Volunteers continue to be organized to complete house-building projects planned by both organizations, and construction materials are being solicited.

If your parish has resources or volunteers who desire to reach out and to serve, please know the following: currently roofs, porches, steps and ramps are being constructed by volunteer laborers for partially damaged trailers and homes. Major repair and rebuilding projects will begin in November and continue until the summer of 2015. The carpentry work is provided by teams of faith-based communities from out of state who move to Arkansas and stay in campers until all projects have been completed. They need extra hands. Please contact these alliances if you can offer materials, labor, or supplies: Faulkner County Inter-faith and Partners Alliance, ifpalliance@gmail.com, 501-205-6873; or Vilonia Disaster Relief Alliance, vdracares@gmail.com, 501-514-7367.