Here are a few photos from our time in Washington. I’ll be adding more as we find them!
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!
Things have been crazy here in Peoria… Well, Washington. We have all of our members hard at work doing many different things. We’re coming up on FIVE MONTHS since the tornado ripped through Washington, East Peoria, and Pekin, Illinois. With the weather warming up, rebuilding and renovations have started and THIS is getting everyone’s spirits up. But with how busy things have been, the blog has been a little bare. Sorry about that! So here, is a bit of a recap of events for Fostering Transitions, AmeriCorps.
November 17 was the day of the tornadoes. Things were pure chaos for the weeks that followed. People were desperate to find a place to stay, they were contacting insurance, and gathering their possessions that were still there. We were setting up shelters, gathering donations, and getting them where they needed to go. Within the first few days, AmeriCorps had taken over all donations and had a distribution set up in Sunnyland Plaza. We had three stores there plus a few other warehouses to store everything that came in. The Midwest is known (by disaster aid organizations) for our generosity and it definitely showed! The three stores included the general store, an overflow area, and a strictly clothing store.
Today, nearly five months later, we still have two of the stores at Sunnyland Plaza and a warehouse or two. The stores have changed so much in this time though! We have gone from everything on pallets on the floor, to shelves, and an actual organized store! Not only this but we now get fresh produce brought to us every Friday and we are able to provide that for those in need as well. We really have come such a long way. We have gotten so many clothes we don’t know what to do with all of them. We’ve clothed those who needed it here locally and have sent clothes all over the world now to those in need. Hopefully soon we will be out of the clothing business as it’s not needed as much anymore. We still have our clothing store open and it is available for anyone. The general store has transitioned to a long term facility meaning that you have to have some sort of documentation to show that there was property damage. For example, customers must have a FEMA acceptance letter, and insurance document, or a Red Cross card. We serve about thirty families in a day and are still open four days a week. Everything is completely volunteer run. We have a few of our AmeriCorps members stationed out in Washington instead of other sites. I for example am stationed at The Children’s Home normally but since the tornado, I go to the office to turn in time sheets and for meetings, and the rest of the time am in Washington. But other than our AmeriCorps members, everything else is done by pure volunteers from all over. We have had girl scout and boy scout troops, Church groups, College groups, people from Washington, people from all over Central Illinois, and also from many other states. We have had donations flood in from very giving high schools, churches, and other people. We recently had 110 prom dresses delivered to us so that girls don’t have to worry about the HUNDREDS of dollars that prom costs. Through this, we have met some really amazing people. Although this all came from a tragedy, so much good has come from this!
We have celebrated many different things this year as AmeriCorps, such as MLK Day, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, HATCH, Child Abuse Awareness Month, Autism Awareness, Mayor Day, and many many others. We have been recognized for our service by the city of Washington and in just a few days, we will be recognized for our service by the city of Peoria as well. These are very big things for our program and we are all very proud of what we have done.
Not only have we been in Washington and celebrating wonderful things, but we still have many members who are hard at work at after school programs around the city. We have members who have finished half of their terms and are now in the home stretch of finishing up hours. We have members at the Dream Center, Salvation Army, and Friendship House. Because of our members involvement in these programs, we have children who’s lives are being changed by a positive influence that they may not have otherwise. AmeriCorps is really an amazing program!
Not only is our program and all the members amazing but we have a few AMAZING leaders. I would like to take a moment to talk about our Team Member Coach, Natalie. Natalie is a full time employee at the Children’s Home meaning that she has A LOT of stuff to do on site. But since the 18 of November, with the exception of maybe a week, and Sundays, Natalie has been in Washington EVERY SINGLE DAY. On some days she is both at the office and then at the donation center. She works from early in the morning to late into the evening every single day. She has made so many connections with those in the community and has befriended those who come in. She knows people by name and can always be the person to calm someone down. She heads the volunteers and makes sure that everything is being done correctly. She handles the stress and unfortunately the drama, very well. Natalie has really made an impact in Washington and touched hundreds of lives. Natalie has made me incredibly proud to be able to say that she’s my superviser. She has always been an excellent role model to all of us but now, working in this setting with her, I can say that she definitely has made an impact on my life and has set the standard for the type of person I want to be.
So, although we haven’t had much time to blog about what’s going on, we have been hard at work, getting lots of things done! Hopefully, I will be able to keep you more updated as time goes on!
Have a wonderful Monday!
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.
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!
Hi, Natalie here. I want to post something important from the site Becca listed yesterday (http://www.illinois.gov/ready/Press/Pages/111713.aspx).
- 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!
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?