The Montgomery County Long Term Recovery Committee has a lot to do, not just in Mohawk Valley homes still soggy from Tropical Storm Irene, but within its own structure.
“It was tough to get this committee together,” said United Way’s Lauren Bibby at Thursday’s committee meeting. “We got a late start and missed the wave of volunteers,”
The group aims to help flood victims of tropical storms Irene and Lee long after FEMA funding dried up. Biddy said many people are still living in houses with leaky roofs, damaged foundations and mold in the walls more than a year after the water receded.
They still need help but as Red Cross response manager Michael Raphael pointed out, people who weren’t hit by the flood forget as quickly as FEMA.
“The short term is the easy part,” he said. “Everyone comes together. Everyone’s excited, but eventually, everyone goes home and the victims are left with nothing.”
It’s true there was a large volunteer effort in the wake of Irene, but at the time Montgomery County didn’t have an organization to direct their efforts. More than a year later the group just voted in their bylaws, finally ready to get down to business.
Catholic Charities funnels flood victims they can’t afford to help to the long-term recovery group. Currently the committee has only $16,000 at their disposal so most of those cases are still on hold.
Walter Fosdick of Catholic Charities said there are currently 38 flood-damaged homes in the area, many of which need structural support.
“We don’t have the money to help them,” he said, “but neither does the committee.”
One way around the funding problem is to used donated materials and labor, but there are difficulties there as well.
Local Home Depot stores donated materials to the group, “but we tend to get things people have ordered and never picked up,” said Andy McPherson, the group’s resident construction expert. “We have a lot of fancy things like custom doors but no lumber or Sheetrock, which is what we actually need.”
Even if they could get free two-by-fours, they wouldn’t have a place to store them. No public buildings have been offered for storage and the few warehouse-owning business approached are wary for insurance reasons.
Volunteering is also tricky business. Certified, insured carpenters and electricians are needed in many cases. The average T-shirt-wearing teen volunteering with his youth group might be great at picking up debris, but he’s not going to be able to fix the water heater.
Such hurdles have limited the committee’s ability to do small favors like fixing air-conditioning systems and one roof.
Raphael served on successful long-term recovery committees in other counties as part of his job. As committee members discussed problems he dished out advice, starting with money.
“In order to fundraise, you have to have very specific needs,” he said.
Right now the committee has a list of flood-damaged homes with vague descriptions of what is wrong with them. Asking the state or other charities for funds requires specifics.
The committee does have one major thing in its favor.
“There are going to be more natural disasters in New York,” Raphael said. “That’s what is going to bring people to the table.”
A similar committee was formed in Montgomery County after the 2006 floods but it fell apart after needs were met.
“If we had held together we would be much further along by now,” said McPherson, who served back in 2006.
Volunteers would rather lend a hand repairing the damage downstate. County officials and local businesses on the other hand might be interested in helping out an organization that will help them when the next flood hits.
To donate money, time or building materials, especially lumber, paint and shingles, call the Catholic Charities office at 842-4202.