We’re Back!

After 6 months of hard work, we’ve officially closed the Washington Tornado Relief Center. It’s a bittersweet feeling; while we’re thrilled to see people back on their feet, we’ll also miss all the wonderful volunteers and neighbors we’ve met. There’s too much to say about this experience for one post, so for now I’ll stick to the facts:

1. The WTRC was open from November 18th, 2013- May 10th, 2014.

2. During those 6 months we had countless volunteers (and by “countless” I mean, “we’re still counting them!”) who logged over 5000 hours of service time.

3. There were days when we had over 100 people come to the store for help.

4. We worked with many local (and not-so-local) organizations to find, receive, coordinate, and give out thousands of donations.

5. We filled 3 stores at the Washington Plaza in Sunnyland, plus 4 or 5 warehouses, with donations.

6. People from as far away as North Carolina and New Jersey traveled to the WTRC to volunteer with us.

7. AmeriCorps St. Louis came to Washington immediately after the tornadoes to take over the phone/volunteer coordination for us–and they were fantastic!

8. The Salvation Army and Red Cross brought hot food and drinks to us so we could feed our volunteers (and ourselves!) for several days.  The Red Cross continued to bring us hot chocolate and coffee all through the record-breaking cold this winter.

9. There were lots of tears–at first, tears of sadness and shock; but then, tears of happiness and relief as people started to put their lives back together.

10. We celebrated 3 major holidays at the Center–Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. They might be some of the most memorable -and meaningful- holidays we’ll ever celebrate.

 

So, the WTRC is closed.  We’re still helping to make sure the remaining donations (mostly water, perfect for the hot summer coming up) gets to those in need, but we’re no longer in Washington daily.  The people we met, the stories we heard, and the volunteers who gave so much to help those in need will always stay with us, though.  They’ve become a part of our program, a part of our community, and a part of our lives.  And we’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to be part of their story.  We’re sure, no matter what, they’ll stay Washington Strong!

 

 

.Washington AmeriCorps

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Getting Things Done

washington-tornado images

Devastation hit nearly a month ago in the Washington Area, a quick ten minutes from Peoria.  That Sunday we all knew we would be called into the office, but we had no idea what this would entail.  We had heard stories of AmeriCorps teams being part of the first responders to the Joplin and Moore Tornadoes in the past.  Would that be us?  Would be in the middle of the mess, picking up the pieces of people’s lives?  Could we handle that?  Our members are for the most part in schools, doing after school programs and tutoring.  We were not disaster relief specialists and honestly, I don’t think emotionally ready for what we could have been asked to do.  It was 8 AM Monday morning when members came in, current and past alike.  We were ready, up for the challenge.  We sorted everything we had in the basement that we could donate, hats, gloves,scarves, sleeping bags, hygiene items, and blankets.  Then… We waited.  We had to wait for the powers above us to give us the okay.  So we waited, ate some McDonald’s… and then waited some more.  We were almost disappointed!  We were supposed to be there!  Instead we were sitting in the office, eating McDonald’s, telling stories of how long we were without power, how windy it was, and how scared we all were for those who we knew who could have been effected.

Finally, we got the call.  We were going to Washington and setting up a donation center.  Not quite clean up, not quite right in the middle of it all, but the perfect spot for our loving and compassionate members who were in fact trained to take care of people.  We headed to Washington and started sorting.  We had tables and tables set up, Julie had helped take over for an exhausted Chamber of Commerce member who had be effected by the storm and was now in charge of donations, Natalie lead all of the sorting with some members, Andrew (an alum) photographed every bit of it, and Rebecca made phone calls.  We knew that this banquet center wouldn’t last long as a donation center.  We had trailer loads of things coming and there was no way that this could be what we needed it to be.  Two days later, we moved.  We went to an empty warehouse and filled the entire thing with shelves to put items on.  Three empty stores became Donation Centers, and that was only the beginning.

Now, nearly a month later, we are still going strong.  Three warehouses are filled to the ceilings with donations that are currently being sorted and then used to restock our shelves at Sunnyland Plaza.  AmeriCorps has completely taken over donations and will be there for the long run.  We were told to expect six months.  We never ever would have guessed that we would be there that long, holding victims hands as they pick up what they need, hugging them as they cry, and reassuring them that we are there for them and that this was all for them.  There have been some ups and downs and you’ll get that with anything like that.  But we have truly seen the best of people and have been so blessed to be able to be a part of this.

http://www.pjstar.com/article/20131211/NEWS/131219761

This is a newspaper article all about our donation center, and although no members, nor Natalie were interviewed, member Brenton is pictured.  For any information feel free to contact us here or on Facebook.

Fostering Transitions AmeriCorps (Facebook page)

AmeriCorps: Getting Things Done!

An important note.

Hi, Natalie here. I want to post something important from the site Becca listed yesterday (http://www.illinois.gov/ready/Press/Pages/111713.aspx).

TO VOLUNTEER

  • DO NOT GO TO THE SCENE OF A DISASTER
  • Due to the overwhelming response, there are far more volunteer offers than there are volunteer needs.
  • The arrival of unexpected volunteers will interfere with response efforts.
  • STAY SAFE by volunteering with a reputable agency!
  • Volunteers will be needed most during the long-term recovery phase, which will last month/years.
  • Please be patient and WAIT until relief agencies can train you and use your help.

Bolded emphasis mine. PLEASE remember that unexpected/unsolicited volunteers can often make things worse.  We understand that everyone feels helpless and wants to do anything they can at a time like this to help, but it’s imperative that you wait until you’re contacted by a reputable agency to come out.  Please don’t show up unannounced, and please don’t donate things that aren’t asked for. We spent hours yesterday evening going through bags of donated clothes, and while those will be very helpful for victims of this disaster, there were also many thing that won’t be helpful at all (for example, the many pairs of used underwear we had to sort through).  There will be plenty to do, and work for everyone in the long term, so please be patient while we figure out where to place you. Thanks!

An udate.

We have been posted to Washington, IL for full-time tornado recovery efforts. We will be at the donation center located at Countryside Banquet facility (659 School St.). We are asking that those who want to sign up to help go through the Washington Chamber of Commerce. Thanks!

Devastation.

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November 17, 2013 has become a day that will not be easily forgotten by those who live in Central Illinois.  Around 10:30 to 11 a tornado ripped through multiple areas in the areas surrounding Peoria.  Washington getting the brunt of the storms which reached nearly 200 MPH winds while there were touchdowns in Pekin, East Peoria, Marquette Heights, and Roanoke.  Devastation is widespread.  There was luckily ONLY one fatality in Washington, but six throughout Illinois.  Governor Pat Quinn has been going throughout Illinois assessing damage and visiting with the communities effected the greatest, seeing what the needs are and trying to lift spirits as best as he can.  Volunteers are still being asked to stay out of the area, especially Washington, until they can determine what needs to be done and who can be of the most help.  Stay tuned to news and radio reports, FEMA reports, and reports from American Red Cross, as they are the sources you should be listening to.

What can I do to help?

As of right now, Red Cross is asking to go online and make monetary donations, selecting that the funds be sent directly to the tornado relief.  Although there will be needs in the next few days to weeks, once everything has been assessed the shelters will know exactly what they need.  Right now, the area has been flooded with donations of all kinds, which is wonderful, although there is no areas to store anything yet.  Again, stay tuned to see when they will be accepting donations and what they need.

What is AmeriCorps doing?

Today, our members gathered together at the Agency and put together everything we had including sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, and hygiene items.  We haven’t sent them anywhere as we are still waiting to hear where there is a need.  We have also not been mobilized.  We are ready and we are on call for when we are needed but until all of the damage has been assessed, we will not be sent anywhere.  There are other AmeriCorps groups that are coming from Missouri and other states to help and once they have arrived, our AmeriCorps team will help them in whatever ways we can, be it lodging, transportation, or guidance as they are not familiar with the area.  We will later be put in charge of volunteer groups at emergency child care places that have been opened, or at shelters, or food pantries, or with animals.  Wherever we are needed we will be.

How can I stay updated and in the loop?

This website has everything that you need to know.  Who is involved, who needs what, where you can help, what you can donate, etc, etc.
Also feel free to contact us here at AmeriCorps: Fostering Transitions.
Coordinator Julie S: jsiebert@chail.org
Team Member Coach Natalie S: nsalawage@chail.org
AmeriCorps members: americorps@chail.org
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More on Keepsacks.

Keepsacks

As Becca said in yesterday’s post, our annual Keepsacks for Kids project is coming up quickly.  Now that we’ve started some of our new members (and brought back a few of our old ones) we’re gearing up for this awesome event. Since Becca explained the project already, I’ll just add our request for donations and help with hygiene kits.

Ideally, our hygiene kits will be specialized by age and sex. Our wish list for each hygiene kit includes shampoo/conditioner, liquid body wash, razors and shaving cream for adults, deodorant, hair brush/comb, lotion, face/body wipes, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, wash cloth or hand towel, bandages, antibiotic ointment, cotton balls, tissues, pads and tampons for adult women, and hand sanitizer. Since donations and money are scarce, we know that we should have realistic expectations.  Our most-needed items are listed in the graphic above, but we’ll happily accept any donations that come our way.  We ask that items be unopened or unused, especially if they are hotel-sized travel items.  Things that are individually packaged are best, but items in bulk that can’t be separated are always useful for large families or agencies that cater to many people.

 

We’d love for you to be a part in our Keepsacks for Kids project. On behalf of the hundreds of people who will receive a warm blanket and a hygiene kit this winter, THANK YOU!

Back to School, Back to School…

Many of our AmeriCorps members are currently students in college.  We have a few just beginning, a few half way done, and a few who are nearing the end.  Never the less, they’ve all gone back to the classroom, carrying books, listening to lectures, and doing homework.  Not only are they doing that, but they are beginning a new term here at AmeriCorps.  Soon enough the office will be back in full swing of things!  There will be members in and out of the office, up and down the stairs, and constantly on the phone setting up things for our team to do.  Lucky for all of you, that means it’s time for you to get involved with us.

We have many projects that are already looming closer and we’ll need plenty of help.  This Saturday there is a Special Olympics Bowling outing that always needs volunteers and there will be another one on October 12!  Also approaching very quickly is the United Way Day of Caring.  There are many things that you can do and you can look on line to see what your community is doing and how you can get involved.  Our AmeriCorps team will be at the Civic Center boxing up canned goods.  Which we will also be collecting until the 5th of September which is soon!  So if you are in the Peoria area, feel free to bring by canned goods to any of the Children’s Home locations!  In a couple of months, one of our biggest projects happens.  On October 19 we will all gather together in honor of the annual Keepsacks for Kids project and sort and make hundreds of blankets and hygiene kits to be sent out to all of the local shelters to help those in need.    The average age of a homeless person in Illinois is 9 years old!  Isn’t that heart breaking?  So when you’re all snuggled up in your warm bed in your home with a full stomach, think about those children who need your help and ask what you can do for them.  We would love donations of any kind, including fleece for blankets or any type of hygiene kits such as full size shampoo and body wash, tooth brushes, tooth paste, combs, brushes, tissues, etc etc.

The school season is the busiest time of the year but don’t forget that you can still help!

Our fearless leader Julie's son and a past member's nephew helping at Keepsacks for Kids!

Our fearless leader Julie’s son and a past member’s nephew helping at Keepsacks for Kids!