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

Catching Up

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This was Store One for the first few weeks!

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!

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Limestone cheerleaders brought a TON of donations. Thank you :]

 

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!