‘It’s about the people’ — how one non-profit is helping Dayton recover

As some disaster-relief operations begin to wind down in the Miami Valley since the Memorial Day tornadoes, one group is in it for the long haul.

Christian-based nonprofit Declare has been helping displaced families by delivering furniture, household items and emotional support right to the door of people who still need help.

Declare started its Living City Project in October 2018 and completed its first project in April when more than 1,500 volunteers helped to clean up vacant homes in the area. When tornadoes struck the Miami Valley, the group set out again to help the community.

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Joel Burton, Project Manager with the Living City Project and Outreach Missions Pastor at Hopeland Church, said he does not remember most of June — not because he was having summer fun, but because he spent the month planning and organizing tornado relief efforts.

“It was crazy. It was like a week I didn’t sleep. There’s no sleep, just planning and working and moving,” Burton said.

Declare’s initially small operation quickly turned into an organized and extensive effort. The group currently sorts and exports inventory out of a warehouse owned by St. Vincent de Paul.

“We had an outpost at Hopeland Church where people could come and get supplies, and one thing led to another and now we have a warehouse and we are moving people into their new apartments or their new homes. At the moment it is all volunteer-based,” Burton said.

Most of the work involves accepting donations from two disaster relief organizations stationed in Texas, MANNA Worldwide and Good360, and delivering everything from toothpaste to coffee tables.

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“We just take it day by day. We’re getting what they call a ‘house in a box’ set, which is $100,000 worth of housing materials in one box,” Burton said.

North Dayton resident Amy recently went on maternity leave before the tornado destroyed her place of work.

“I worked at Grocery Land for three years, and now I don’t have a job to go back to. I ended up losing my car because I couldn’t make the car payment . It’s just one thing after another. We’re far behind on rent. I’m trying to find a job but with five kids and no vehicle, it’s hard.”

Amy, who asked that her last name not be used, recently received furniture from Declare after a referral from the Miami Valley Community Action Partnership. “This means everything. My five kids have been sitting on the floor for a month now. As long as they have some place, it means a lot. This is wonderful, I am so thankful for this,” she said.

Declare moves three to four families into their new homes and gives them supplies each day. Volunteer Edward James notes volunteering is a small task with a big reward.

“I moved here from Virginia two years ago and I never volunteered. I came here and met everyone with Declare, and I really felt a calling to get out into the community. It’s really fulfilling to be able to do something so simple. You’re picking somebody up.”

Tracy McGlothan celebrated her birthday on Friday and received an early present last week when Declare delivered several pieces of furniture and other household items to her new home in Trotwood.

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McGlothan says the tornado struck her Trotwood apartment while she was home watching TV.

“I told everyone to run, but it was there before you could do anything. My phone blew away and broke. I got looted and they took everything. But it’s over now. Everybody has helped us. I have no complaints, I have blessings.”

Although the Living City Project began its tornado cleanup operations with roughly 5,000 volunteers, Burton says that that number has dwindled significantly.

“We’re the only ones left doing this on this scale. People volunteering has almost stopped completely. We’re not having anybody sign up, which is rough. We could really use volunteers, people that may be retired or have an evening job, they want to do something for a few hours in the morning. We still have 558 locations that need cleaned up.”

Those interested in volunteering with Declare or in need of assistance can visit the group’s website at declare.org/livingcityproject.

Living City Project volunteer and Phillips Temple Pastor Steve Bowen says their mission isn’t just about the deliveries. “It’s so much more than this. We don’t do it for the furniture, we do it for the people.”

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