Volunteers boost PA families

For Sherry Buresh, a young boy's face brought into sharp focus the lingering post-flood pain in Pennsylvania.

BY SUSAN KIM | BLOOMSBURG, Pa. | August 4, 2006

For Sherry Buresh, a young boy's face brought the lingering post-flood pain in Pennsylvania into sharp focus.

Buresh was cleaning soggy belongings from a damaged home when she caught sight of a 5-year-old boy trying to carry his ruined possessions back inside.

"We were helping this father and his two sons. Just a month before the flood, their house had burned," said Buresh, assistant director for human services with the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP). "They lost everything, and so moved in with the father's parents. Then that house got flooded. And this youngest boy was carrying stuff back in the house as fast as people could carry it out. He's five. I could see it written in his face: 'I've already lost everything in a fire and now you're throwing out my stuff.' "

CAP works with national and state disaster response groups of many denominations, as well as through the Kentucky Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

Buresh has been in Pennsylvania for a week. Another day while the volunteers worked, they could hear the family gathered in the only habitable room on the home's first level. "They were singing 'happy birthday' to the oldest son, who just turned seven. I thought that was good for the family. Nothing is too awful to keep from celebrating."

For Buresh, hearing a family singing together reinforced why her work with CAP has become her calling.

"In that family, the father has been doing what he can to help. But his own father has some health problems, and they said they didn't know what they were going to do. We got the house all cleaned out so they can start installing drywall. They've been living upstairs in their second floor. Every room downstairs was ruined except for one."

Bloomsburg was just one of many Pennsylvania towns hit hard by flooding earlier this summer. Now volunteer groups - from CAP and other organizations - have been working in 100-degree temperatures, helping to gut and clean damaged homes.

For Bloomsburg resident Katie Chapman, the volunteers have put new excitement into what looked like a drudging scene. After the waters receded, it took Chapman three days to be able to get to her home, only to see it was severely damaged. Soon, the mold set in - and people could smell it even before they could see it in the home.

"The volunteers all came from Kentucky, a big huge group of them," she said. "A few weeks ago, we were flooded. We had three inches of water up into our first floor. And it was starting to rot out. My dad and husband fell through the floor when they were cleaning stuff out. They had everything ripped out."

Chapman, who has a 16-month old son, has been living with her parents. "The volunteers put in floor joists, plywood and sub-flooring," she said.

Her words tumble quickly along: "Next we're going to put insulation up on the walls, then put the windows in, and the doors up, then put the drywall up. I'm excited to have these volunteers - and I'm very impressed. I actually would like to volunteer myself in the future."

Chapman learned about the volunteers through her father-in-law, a member of the Wesley United Methodist Church, who travels as a volunteer himself. She hopes to get back home within two weeks.

CAP's crews have seen the devastating impact of flooding all too many times. Kentucky, where CAP is based, is known for its repeat floods.

But this year, said Buresh, the state has gotten a respite - and CAP has hit the road to help other disaster-torn areas of the country. And CAP is becoming more well-known as a disaster response resource, Buresh added. "We're now being included in the State Emergency Operations Plan," she said.

CAP has also sent work crews and distributed truckloads of relief supplies along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A resource in big demand right now is shower trailers, said Buresh. "We have two-unit shower trailers in place in Gautier and Waveland (Mississippi), and in New Orleans."

If Kentucky faces flooding again, Buresh and CAP have pledged to be there locally as well. "If we are hit again, at least not only are we there - but our long-term recovery committee has been unbelievable," she said. "For now, I enjoy this part of it."

Buresh advised volunteers who want to help to affiliate themselves with a group so they can coordinate their work to help those most in need. "Sometimes disaster sites don't have jobs lined up yet," she explained. "Then you end up with extra crews standing around."

About CAP

CAP, a faith-based organization, is the 15th largest human services charity in the United States. It has served more than 27,000 eastern Kentuckians in the last fiscal year. CAP's gift-in-kind program is called Operation Sharing, which has provided assistance in 13 Appalachian states, reaching more than 1 million people.

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