Guest Column: Group aims to meet unmet needs from disaster

Published 10:32 pm Friday, July 14, 2017

Live United by Ann Austin

The floods of September impacted many Freeborn County community members; in fact, over 650 families had some kind of reportable damage to their residence.

Soon after recovery efforts began, local community members stepped up to form the Freeborn County Disaster Recovery Committee to serve long-term needs. The chairwoman is Brigitte Fisher (director of Habitat for Humanity), vice chairman is John Holt (pastor of First Lutheran Church) and I serve as secretary/treasurer. Other committee members include individuals from area nonprofits, local government and the general community.

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The mission of the committee is to minister to the unmet needs of Freeborn County residents adversely impacted by disaster.

Ann Austin

We have several goals, including:

• Provide service and support to promote healing and wellness

• Provide coordinated management of community resources for long-term recovery of individuals, families and rehabilitation of households.

• Provide services to those special cases that may lie outside of Freeborn County.

Our intent is to become a sustainable collaboration to assist in future disasters.

We define a disaster as “A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental loss and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.”

With assistance from Lutheran Social Services (LSS) and a grant they received through the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, many community members were able to receive assistance through local, state and federal programs. Most of this assistance was received thanks to the fantastic work done by temporary LSS staff Denise Tipton (case manager) and Tom Larson (construction manager).

However, there still remain unmet needs that we will be working to address. Though disasters such as tornadoes are more high profile, many individuals get assistance through insurance. With flood events, there are limited resources and most people do not receive insurance coverage because specific conditions must be met — depending on location and the type of damage.

The United Way board recently approved the transfer of $10,000 from a Basic Needs Fund we set up several years ago to a fund held at the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. This fund will be maintained to address current and future disaster-related needs. We plan to grow dollars in this fund through community donations and events.

Current and future needs are significant after a flood. The following story is one example of challenges local community members continue to face:

The family’s furnace was so damaged due to the flood that it would not restart. As the temperature dropped, their pipes froze. They were able to have a family member help repair the furnace, but once the home warmed up, their pipes burst.

During an inspection by the local construction manager, they discovered the water heater was also damaged beyond repair. The family’s foundation is below the frost line, which has become unstable due to the saturated soil.

The case manager and construction manager were able to access emergency assistance through Semcac and The Salvation Army. They also helped the family sign up for FEMA, which replaced the furnace and water heater. There is still need to address other concerns with the foundation and replace lost items that were damaged in the flood.

To donate to the disaster response fund, or become involved as a trained disaster response volunteer, community members may call the Community Resource Center at 507-473-2718 to get connected to myself or Fisher.

Our goal is to make our community as strong as possible, so the next time a disaster occurs, we are fully prepared and can assist our neighbors in recovering as quickly as possible.

Thank you for any way you choose to get involved!

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.