Dottie Baer estimates volunteers have helped 800 to 900 families since this summer's devastating flooding in Binghamton, N.Y., but she worries the public has forgotten about the hundreds of families still in need.
"We even had people here in Binghamton who didn't know help was still needed," said Baer, coordinator of Conklin Presbyterian Church's Flood Relief Center. Baer said much of the recovery has moved into the rebuild and repair stage, and yet they still occasionally come across homes that have not been touched since the severe flooding hit back in June.
"We got a home just last week that was full of black mold and the family is still living in it," she said. "They've been waiting for an assessor to come and for help."
June's flooding destroyed hundreds of homes in the region and damaged thousands of others. Baer's church helped families in the immediate aftermath by feeding and distributing supplies. They also sent out clean-up teams. Now the teams spend time installing drywall and other rebuilding tasks. "We help anyone who asks. We don't supply the materials but we will supply the labor to those who ask. We don't ask anything of the families. It's a long process, though, and it's not surprising that the families get frustrated."
Baer said the workload is overwhelming and more skilled volunteers are especially needed. Baer added that her workload is intense as well, with her usually working seven days a week. "We're taking anybody who's willing to help us out," she said.
The church's Flood Relief Center works very closely with the Susquehanna Valley Presbytery, where Doug Horne is helping spear-head the organization's flood response. Horne said the presbytery committed itself to supporting the recovery efforts for a year this past September and now the push is on to help as many people as possible.
To support the rebuild efforts, Horne said they called upon a proven Presbyterian Disaster Assistance idea to house disaster recovery volunteers. "We set up a Volunteer Village in Bainbridge where we can house up to 65 volunteers overnight," said Horne, the presbytery's volunteer program coordinator for flood relief.
The Bainbridge Volunteer Village is the first one outside of the Gulf Coast and Horne said it remains to be seen just how well it will weather the winter, but thus far it's been very successful. Another local Presbyterian church is also offering lodging to volunteers as well.
Horne echoed Baer's sentiment that the workload is daunting, but he remain hopeful that those in need will receive help. "In the last three weeks we've been in the process of shifting gears from the clean-up to the rebuild," he explained. "What we can do is provide volunteers and help stretch what money the affected families might have from (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) or the state, or insurance in some cases. We are focused primarily on those who are not in a position to help themselves - those carrying a heavy mortgage and having to work while their houses remain in ruins. Many of their homes are now not worth what they owe on them."
The presbytery's initial goal is to restore at least 50 people to their homes, he noted, and they are already working closely with the county long-term recovery agency and other responding agencies - including Mennonite Disaster Service.
The Broome County long-term recovery committee is moving ahead with the response as well, pulling together agencies throughout the county to help families in need.
John Spencer said the path has been challenging because the agencies have never responded to a disaster of this scale before. "This is our first shot at it all," said Spencer, co-chair of Broome Area Networking in Disaster (BAND). "We have some funds for our unmet needs committee from the local foundations, but we're looking at how to get more resources for more staff."
Spencer said BAND needs a coordinator and additional case managers. So far 19 case managers are working on the cases of 50 families via the BAND member agencies - and another 75 families are in line for help. "My guess, though, is that are probably another 400 who will need some type of assistance, and then another 250 on top of that who will need in-depth help," explained Spencer, who also serves as the executive director of United Way of Broome County.
As BAND continues to meet, Spencer expects the game plan they have in mind to take hold more and move forward. The agencies are making strides forward in the recovery, but more support is needed. "My expectation is that once we fill some of these key positions in case management and get an overall project coordinator, then we'll be able to make greater strides more quickly."
Until then, the steady stream of volunteers streaming into the area via agencies like Conklin Presbyterian Church, Mennonite Disaster Service and Susquehanna Valley Presbytery will continue helping as they can.
"We can certainly put anybody to work, and we're using our partnerships with everyone to move forward," said Horne.
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