Relief fund keeps helping local communities’ tornado recovery

When tornadoes ravaged the Dayton area on May 27, 2019, people jumped in to help with their hands and chainsaws, but also with their wallets.

The Dayton Foundation received a total of about $2.8 million in donations to its Greater Dayton Disaster Relief Fund, according to Vice President of Operations Jeanne Holihan. The Foundation responded to community recovery needs in three stages, Holihan said, with work still continuing today.

“Initially, when the tornadoes happened, as (donations) were received, we were putting grants out to organizations that are suited for response to a disaster, like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army,” she said. “We were issuing grants to help them re-house those who were displaced.”

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The second stage, which involves recovery assistance for individuals and households, was completed in October 2021.

“For two years, we helped homeowners, as well as renters, get re-established,” she said. “Many of these grants went to organizations that were supporting, through the Miami Valley Long-Term Recovery collaborative, intake of individuals who needed help and determining what help they needed, whether that was a rebuild, furniture or whatever the case may be.”

Now the Foundation is in the third stage: community recovery.

“This involves providing assistance to the jurisdictions that are still recovering from the tornadoes,” she said.

Credit: India Duke

Credit: India Duke

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Efforts in this stage include funding toward the Tornado Survivor Pathways to Homeownership Program, grants to RETREET for replanting of trees — whether in places like Sinclair Park or at individual home sites — and funding assistance for individual recovery projects proposed by cities and jurisdictions.

One project example, Holihan said, is a $200,000 grant to Five Rivers MetroParks to support its efforts to clean up the Foxton Court apartment site on Shoup Mill Road and turn the area into park land.

According to Holihan, the remaining recovery funds total around $500,000, with new donations still coming in, all of which will continue to be used to fund jurisdictional projects.

“We continue to receive donations and we still have work to do,” she said.

Although the second stage in the recovery effort ended in October, the Foundation has vowed to continue to provide support to individuals seeking tornado recovery assistance through the Catholic Social Services helpline for an additional year, as some homeowners have been dealing with insurance claims and are only just becoming aware that their policy payouts may not be enough to facilitate full repairs or rebuilds.

“This community is very resilient, and (we’re proud) to be able to support the recovery with funding that was received by the donations that came in from around the country, if not around the world,” Holihan said. “We’re proud that the community trusted us and we were able to support the agencies that had boots on the ground helping people.”



Community-by-community approach

**Dayton: The city invested $4.1 million in direct tornado recovery efforts, including debris removal, permanent infrastructure improvements for roads, sidewalks and curbs, repairs to damaged city facilities, demolition of damaged city facilities near Wegerzyn Gardens, and the restoration of Ridgecrest Park.

“We worked diligently with FEMA and OEMA for nearly two years to recover costs incurred as a direct result of the tornado in Dayton,” said Assistant City Manager Joe Parlette.

While buildings were the most visible things damaged, in the immediate storm response, the city of Dayton had to repair or replace 97 traffic signals and restore power to 78 intersections, along with replacing signs and streetlights.

Public Works collected 220,000 cubic yards of tree debris, which was recycled into 88,000 cubic yards of wood chips, city officials say. Piled 10 feet high, the wood chips would cover the Welcome Stadium football field five times.

The factors that helped or hindered a neighborhood’s ability to rebuild is something city officials say they need to understand more thoroughly. For example, the DeWeese neighborhood is almost 100% rebuilt, repaired, or remediated, and the high rate of homeowners insurance may be a contributing factor in that success.

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**Harrison Twp.: There are some streets that are still in rough shape around Neff Road and Maple Grove Avenue, east of Dixie Drive. On Maple Grove, a tree that went through a house’s roof three years ago is still there today, and a building in the 2000 block of Neff Road looks as if it’s about to fall onto the road.

Administrator Kris McClintick says the the biggest challenge from a government perspective has been to get to a point where the township is capable and funded to remove damaged structures that have been abandoned.

“We have interest in developing new homes in the township, but the impacts of inflation, COVID and the tornado are compounding the costs of construction and recovery has been slow,” McClintick said.

**Clayton: The city has been “very lucky” in its recovery from the tornado, City Manager Amanda Zimmerlin said.

“There was no significant damage to any commercial centers and those residential areas that were affected, the homes have either been repaired or are in the process of being repaired,” Zimmerlin said.

Clayton officials are still working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on storm debris waterway clean-up, according to Zimmerlin, and after many delays due to the pandemic, the project should be completed by mid-June.

As part of the Miami Valley TREEcovery Campaign, around 40 trees have been planted in the city.

**Riverside: The city suffered damage in the Overlook Homes area, as well as at The Prairies neighborhood.

“We were lucky in that damage in our community wasn’t nearly as extensive as in others,” said City Manager Josh Rauch. “For the most part, we have fully recovered and there are few lingering effects from that particular storm.”

** Regionwide: Some neighborhoods have recovered so well that you wouldn’t even know they got hit by the tornadoes — until you look at the trees. It may be a mangled tree here, or a line of trees permanently leaning east there, or sometimes, just a complete lack of trees, because they were all flattened.

Other areas still sit as vacant slabs three years later — the former Hara Arena, the strip mall on North Dixie at Ridge, the former hotel along I-75 at Wagner Ford, and the indoor sports building at Action Sports Center.

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