From under the muck left by Northland flooding, volunteer spirit shines through
Sharon Dwyer is happy the East Sixth Street home in Duluth that has been in her family for 66 years was declared structurally sound after the flood -- and grateful for the volunteers who shoveled up mud this week from a collapsed wall in her base...
Sharon Dwyer is happy the East Sixth Street home in Duluth that has been in her family for 66 years was declared structurally sound after the flood -- and grateful for the volunteers who shoveled up mud this week from a collapsed wall in her basement.
"These guys could be out fishing or with their families," Dwyer said. "And here they are, walking around in a stranger's mud and garbage."
Dwyer is one of the hundreds who signed up for help through the new Volunteer Reception Center of Greater Duluth, organized by the city of Duluth, the United Way of Greater Duluth and All Hands Volunteers after record rain in the region June 19-20.
The center has been coordinating and mobilizing registered volunteers to flood sites since Saturday and will continue through Thursday.
So far, 760 volunteers have signed on to help the 400 or so households that have asked for financial or physical assistance in Duluth as well as
Carlton and Douglas counties. Both groups did so through the United Way website, unitedwayduluth.org. In harder-hit neighborhoods such as Fond du Lac, door-knocking was done to offer help.
"There's the Midwestern factor; people don't want to ask for help," said Nikki Haenke, community engagement manager for the United Way, who has coordinated the effort with Duluth's volunteer coordinator, Cheryl Skafte. "We're having to talk people into it. They think others need more help. So we're encouraging referrals."
It turned out that many of the 400 households no longer needed volunteers because they took care of their problems before volunteers arrived, Haenke said. And the volunteer list is so long that not everyone has been called to help.
The effort has been a huge undertaking.
Before volunteers pick up a shovel, organizers work to ensure that liability issues are covered and that volunteers and homeowners are safe, that homes are assessed for need, volunteers are checked, and the logistics of getting the right people to the right places are worked out.
"It's been pretty amazing to do this," Skafte said. "If something like this were to ever happen in Duluth again, the skills the team has been able to build will be well-utilized."
Organizers had heard stories of thefts being committed elsewhere in the country during disasters, and they set up a system to prevent that from happening here.
Volunteers are required to check in at the center housed in the Secondary Technical Center at the former Central High School campus. Their information is taken and they are given a color-coded wristband. Trained site leaders, who have a little to a lot of construction, supervisory or carpentry knowledge, manage each site.
Volunteers were responsible for much of the work at Dwyer's home Tuesday -- removing ruined belongings, shoveling muck and pressure-washing floors.
The types of volunteers sought were people "who didn't mind getting dirty," Haenke said, along with people with specialized skills and an ability to communicate.
"When we go, sometimes homeowners just need someone to talk to," she said. "To be their shoulder."
Many volunteers signed on from throughout the state and across the country, including from Seattle, Tennessee and Iowa.
Immediate needs are being met, Skafte said, and the numbers remaining include "tens of homes, not hundreds."
Those who still want to help should keep an eye out for community cleanup events, she said. Some who sign up might still be called upon as people get back into flooded homes.
The Minnesota-based Nechama Jewish Response to Disaster group has been working on the effort as well, along with other affiliated religious groups, which bring their own equipment.
Retired construction worker Brian Ronstrom was working at Dwyer's home Tuesday because "the call went out," he said, noting that he had planned to help repair city trails.
"When I went to volunteer, they said, 'People first, trails second,'" he said. "That seemed to make a lot of sense."