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Business donation sparks AR efforts

BY SUSAN KIM | LITTLE ROCK, AR | June 7, 1999

A window opened for tornado recovery in Arkansas -- literally -- when a going-out-of-business

window manufacturer in San Antonio donated his million-dollar operation to the Arkansas Disaster Resource Center.

Resource center staff and volunteers began hauling the equipment and inventory to Little Rock this week, where it will take up 8,000 feet of

their 83,000-foot downtown warehouse. The donation will enable workers -- likely hired from the Arkansas School for the Deaf -- to make

storm windows for some 400 homes that still need to be rebuilt after the Jan. 21 tornadoes.

Even as the resource center pursues million-dollar donations, it's also quietly helping individuals whose homes have been in shambles for

months. Sixty-seven-year-old Andrew Jackson watched volunteers put the roof on his home today.

"I'm retired, and my wife passed away in 1997," he said. "She did all the paperwork and bills when she was alive. After she died, I couldn't

get it together, and the insurance policy lapsed. My home was completely torn up. I'm retired, so I take in $700 a month. I pay $525 a

month for rent and utilities. I was really in a bind."

Volunteers, coordinated through the resource center, came to help this week. "I watched the roof going on today," he said. "They're excellent

- just the best."

The Arkansas Disaster Resource Center is one example of how a faith-based organization can grow into an incorporated entity that partners

not only with faith-based disaster response organizations but also with secular state, county, and community organizations.

Nelson Mears, a state coordinator for Adventist Disaster Response, secured the warehouse a few days after the tornadoes hit and began

collecting and managing donations. He got support from so many faith-based disaster response organizations and community groups that

the center incorporated as a multi-agency warehouse with no specific religious affiliation.

It is the state's first resource of its kind. Its partners include the Arkansas Rice Depot, Salvation Army, United Way, Watershed Community

Center, Arkansas Baptist Brotherhood, Adventist Disaster Response, American Red Cross, Catholic Diocees, Christian Reformed World

Relief Services, First United Methodist Church, Lutheran Disaster Response, Mennonite Disaster Service, Christian Endeavors, Jaycees,

Lions Club, and state and county correctional systems.

The resource center also nurtured a partnership with the City of Little Rock, which sent more than 250 letters to corporations requesting

monetary contributions as well as material donations. A city-sponsored "Paint Your Heart Out" campaign also gathered $6,000 for painting

supplies.

In the future, the resource center hopes to network its computers with the city's, allowing neighborhood centers to immediately process

requests for donations. The center also administers an "Adopt-A-Neighbor" program in which trained volunteers serve as advocates, friends,

and information resources for tornado survivors.

But even if response becomes high-tech, many say that Mears' old-fashioned good character has made the difference. "He absolutely has the

needs of the people in mind and he's in this for the right reason," said Sherry Adcock, chair of the Independence County Unmet Needs

Committee.

Adcock, who also works for the United Way, said that she referred two families to the resource center. "Within a week, they had $15,000

worth of building materials."

"People are starting to trust us," agreed Barnes.

The upswing is finally visible. "For months you went up and down the streets, and the homes looked like they did four months ago," said

Mears. "Now we're starting to see a difference."

"Donations have picked up remarkably. Corporations are sending building materials, Feed the Children has donated $1 million in in-kind

gifts, and Church World Service secured enough insulation to repair nearly every damaged home in Little Rock," he said.

Government-funded tornado recovery here has been substantially delayed, in part because the state constitution prohibits most direct lending

or grants to individuals. In addition, a lot of rental property was damaged, said the Rev. Hezekiah Stewart, director of the Watershed

Community Center in Little Rock. "That has caused lingering pain for people. We really need to establish a revolving loan fund," he said.

The Interfaith Disaster Recovery Team (IDRT) is also among the center's partners. IDRT Executive Director Jeannette Barnes said it's

easier to recruit and coordinate volunteers when there are enough building supplies. She has been watching the warehouse start to fill with

insulation, concrete board, wallpaper, and electrical and plumbing implements.

As Mary Elizabeth Brown, a volunteer who works the phones, said, "things here are just booming."

"But we still really need more building materials," Barnes added, stating that a possible partnership with Habitat for Humanity -- which lost

its own warehouse in the tornado - may lead to more donations as well as volunteers.

Even donations don't always come without price: freight on donated items remains the resource center's biggest expense. Added to that

challenge is the fact that the resource center's home may not be permanent. The building was vacated by International Business Forums late

last year, and the center is using it until a lessee is found -- or until a grant or large donation comes through.

Response leaders here caution that even when response has a sudden boost, it's still long-term. "We're just about to wind down from the

March 1997 tornadoes," said Stewart. "And we also need to implement more preparation programming. Because it's going to happen again."


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