> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Within an hour after deadly tornadoes touched down and ripped a violent 50-mile gash through Southern Indiana earlier this year, volunteers were on the scene.
Nearly five months after the storm, help is still being provided and long-term relief plans for survivors are in the works.
The volunteer-based agency March2Recovery, which was created within weeks following the March 2 tornadoes, is at the head of the effort to provide a wide range of assistance to the thousands of survivors.
With a staff of less than 10 people, the group’s primary purpose is to orchestrate hundreds of volunteers, representing about 50 agencies, to provide long aid to the survivors until their lives return to the comforts and normalcy they enjoyed prior to the storm. Although staff members have diligently worked for several months, the group now has the means to put its long-term vision into practice after receiving a grant of more than $2 million provided by the philanthropic organization Lilly Endowment Inc.
The success of March2Recovery has also called for the recent hiring of Jeffersonville resident Carolyn King as executive director to lead the group’s coordination efforts.
“Our main role is trying to be professional, be organized, be accountable to the public for the dollars that are happening and not over-promising what we can do,” King said.
She said the $2 million March2Recovery has received will allow the group to take on larger relief projects such as building and furnishing homes.
“We have not had dollars, except for rental assistance, to really start helping people until now,” she said. “We have just now started the rebuilding by the money that was announced.”
While the allocation of the money was announced weeks following the storm, March2Recovery is scheduled to officially receive the grant Thursday.
MAKING THE MATCH
King said March2Recovery has taken on the task of evaluating the needs of survivors and finding the resources provided by volunteers already in place.
“It is just matching needs to people,” King said. “We want to reach out to people that don’t have support systems.”
She said the severity of the storm and compassion of community members have resulted in a dedicated volunteer base.
“A tornado like this has such visual devastation,” King said. “It was so sudden and so impactful. It is just something in human beings, I think, that you want to reach out and help.”
King said after such a natural disaster, there is a swell of volunteers, and if those individuals are not properly managed, relief efforts can fizzle out before the survivors’’ needs are fully met.
“What happens a lot initially is that some of [the volunteers] got burned out really fast because it is very difficult work,” King said. “They gave so much of themselves that they were depleted.”
King said volunteers who have stepped up to help after the tornado include people from The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, New Hope Services, Inc., faith-based organizations, area banks and other organizations. She said some of the groups offer niche relief programs to help survivors at different stages of their recoveries.
King said case managers were brought on board in May to contact each of the 1,344 households registered with FEMA.
“That is kind of our starting place,” she said.
She said it is highly likely that even more families were affected, but chose not to register with FEMA because their own insurance providers were covering the losses experienced during the storm.
“Out of [those who registered with FEMA], most of them are going to be OK. They will get the FEMA money. They will be repaired,” King said. “We anticipate about 20 percent will need March2Recovery help. It is about 275 to 300 households that we will be helping.”