Swift and plentiful – that’s how emergency managers describe the outpouring of support for victims after the EF4 tornado ripped through the area June 5.
Hours after the storm, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army stepped in to offer immediate help in the form of food, water, clothing and shelter. The United Way of Greater Toledo helped organize and dispatch close to 4,000 volunteers in Wood and Ottawa counties. ISOH/IMPACT, a community based non-profit charitable organization called for “bucket brigades” to collect cleaning and emergency supplies that victims would need. Churches, community groups, businesses and individuals also stepped in to do what they could.
Northwest Ohioans opened not only their hearts but their wallets too, donating at least $626,000 to major organizations like the Red Cross, the United Way and ISOH/IMPACT, as well as to numerous fundraisers organized throughout the region.
Three months later, as fundraisers are still being held and donations continue to trickle in, aid is being distributed to help victims return to their new “normal.”
Large corporations stepped up, including The Chrysler Foundation, which made a $50,000 donation of supplies and cash to ISOH/IMPACT, and Lowe’s, which through its charitable foundations, is donating $50,000 plus $4,800 to Lake Schools.
Even the area’s smallest citizens wanted to help. Kelsey Linkous, 10, daughter of Rossford Police Officer Greg Linkous, and a group of friends held a car wash and cookie sale, which raised $100.
When asked to whom she would like the money donated, Kelsey said, “all of them.” She presented the money to the Lake Township Board of Trustees at a meeting July 6.
The Red Cross received $317,138 in donations, including $20,049.46 collected through a fund set up at GenoaBank. “Our community response is always generous beyond what we anticipate,” Tim Yenrick, American Red Cross Regional Director said.
To date, the organization has spent $232,342 to aid those directly impacted, including meals, emergency shelter, cleaning supplies, and grief counseling. This amount includes $65,000 transferred to community-based long-term recovery committees in Fulton, Ottawa, and Wood counties, according to Jodie Tienvieri, communications manager. The Red Cross also pledged $31,200 to the Lake School District for emergency preparedness and safety training for students of all ages.
Gift cards donated too
As of Aug. 31, ISOH/IMPACT received cash donations totaling $89,401.84 for the NW Ohio/SE Michigan tornado relief effort; $20,541.50 of that was matched by a donation from Andersons in the form of Anderson gift cards for a total of $109,943.34. To date, ISOH/IMPACT has distributed more than $111,000 in relief aid to the affected victims, according to Lori Kazmierczak, ISOH/IMPACT spokesperson.
The United Way of Greater Toledo has received more than $81,229.94 in donations for Wood County’s Long Term Recovery Fund, according to spokesperson Kelli Kreps.
The total will be buoyed by the recent donation of $43,600 from the Lake Township Relief Fund, which held a fundraiser July 11 at Metcalf Field. In addition, $18,480.30 from the event’s proceeds was donated to the Ottawa County Long-term Relief Fund, according to Teri Michalak, an event organizer, who added that funds are still coming in from donations and t-shirt sales.
Funds earmarked for tornado victims are being distributed through Long-Term Recovery Committees set up in Wood and Ottawa counties. To date, $116,791.44 has been distributed to 97 “cases,” which may represent an individual or a family.
“Immediately after the tornado, the United Way, Red Cross and a number of different organizations were asked to be involved in the long-term recovery for the area by Brad Gilbert, director of the Wood County Emergency Management Agency, the governmental entity in charge of the disaster,” said Michael George, director of United Way of Wood County.
George serves as chairman of Wood County’s Long Term Recovery Committee. The committee, which meets weekly, is comprised of between 15 and 30 people representing various organizations.
“The United Way was chosen to be the fiscal agent for the Long Term Recovery Committee,” he said. “We made the decision that we would charge no fees. One hundred percent of what was donated is being passed back out to individuals.
“Community members in Lake Township and Millbury asked us to set up several accounts or ‘pots’ for donations,” George said. “One of the accounts was for assistance for individuals. One was for assistance to parks. One was for assistance to fire, police and schools.
“If you go to the United Way website and click on ‘relief,’ you have five different options to give,” he said.
To receive funds, victims must first meet with caseworker Lisa Mora, whom the committee obtained through Lutheran Social Services.
After the assessment, Mora presents requests for funding to a Case Review Committee, George said. “She presents the case as a number only. Committee members do not know applicant’s name.”
Once requests are approved, they are forwarded to WSOS Community Action Commission, Inc., which serves as a “distributor” for the funds. WSOS requests the funds from the United Way “pot” or the Long Term Recovery Committee’s “pot.” WSOS then sends funds to victims.
“Initially, the Long-Term Recovery Committee came to WSOS and said they needed a fiscal agent to distribute the checks, and we said we would be willing to do that, charge no fees, nothing for the postage, nothing for the time,” according to Ragan Claypool, WSOS support services coordinator. “We didn’t want to be issuing checks and determining who got the money,” she added.
George said he expects that the process for recovery for victims will be ongoing. To date funds have been approved to help victims meet insurance deductibles, for rental assistance, medical needs, car repairs, temporary housing, food and dehumidifiers, George said.
“We want to emphasize it’s going to be a long-term recovery. Some people asked why we didn’t divide up the money and pass it out,” he said.
“People have different needs, needs that change over time,” he said. “You think in June when a tornado hits that you’ve got a grasp on it. Come September, when you’re still not back in your home, you realize the number of things you need that are different than what you needed in June, so it’s going to be a cycle.
“Once a case is closed, it doesn’t mean it can’t be reopened,” George said. “Victims can come back at any time to reopen their file. We fully anticipate that files will be reopened.”
While individual contributions have slowed down, fundraising continues, he said.
“It’s working out. If you look at the pace of what we’re spending and the number of cases that are still pending and the money that we have and we anticipate getting, it looks like it will even out pretty well,” he said. “If funds remain after the claim process is finished, we as a committee and a group and community would have to decide what would happen to those funds.”
For those who still want to help, the committee is willing and available to help those who hold fundraisers direct aid to victims who need it. “We have given those who ask several options for how to give the money to the people through the Long Term Recovery Committee,” George said.
George encourages those who want to know where their donations went to ask. “People have a right to know where their dollars went, so they should contact the organization to which they donated and ask,” he said. “Our system allows us to account for every dollar that’s given out.”
In Ottawa County, some 48 families have received help for tornado recovery through the Long Term Recovery Committee, according to Fred Petersen, director of the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency.
“I would estimate that in excess of $75,000 has been distributed to victims,” Petersen said. “It’s difficult to put an exact figure on the funds that have been donated because there have been some agencies that have delivered money and aid directly, and there are others that have worked directly through us.
“For example, there was a religious organization that handed out $500 gift cards directly to families,” he said. “Genoa Merchants also raised $15,000, which we kind of helped them distribute to about 20 families whose homes were destroyed or sustained major damage.”
Just after the tornado, on June 12, Rayz Café in Genoa raised $16,200 at a fundraiser which was distributed to Ottawa County victims with the help of the Salvation Army, Ottawa County Job and Family Services and the Long Term Recovery Committee, according to Ray St. Marie, organizer of the event.
Like in Wood County, Ottawa County victims seeking assistance meet with a caseworker, Lisa Heyman, who helps them assess their needs.
“Lisa brings back the requests to the committee and we address them through a fund kept at Genoa Bank,” Petersen said. “We’ve received some direct funding from the American Red Cross as well and that’s basically what we’ve established with the account at Genoa Bank. Initially it was $5,000, but I believe there’s going to be another transfer, though I’m not sure of the amount. We went through the $5,000 relatively quickly.
“The United Way in Ottawa County has a disaster fund of $25,000 and that money will be distributed here within the next week or two,” he added.
Victims have sought help to meet a variety of needs, including deductibles, temporary housing, groceries and general living expenses, Petersen said. “In some cases, where insurance has come up a little bit short, we’ve helped out with small projects, whether it’s a roof, carpeting or insulation. Help is not always financial – maybe we assist them in finding skilled labor, volunteer help, whatever they need.
“We will continue to work with them whether they need help finding labor, working with their insurance agency, SBA loans, if they’ve chosen to go that route,” Petersen said.
He encouraged those who still want to help to donate to the Red Cross, the United Way or the Salvation Army.
Victims who would like to receive assistance to meet their needs should call Lisa Mora in Wood County at 419-836-8986 or, in Ottawa County, call Lisa Heyman at 800-775-9767 or 419-332-7987.