More than 100 University of Dayton student volunteers and 150 total volunteers worked Saturday in Old North Dayton near Valley Street to continue cleanup efforts following the Memorial Day tornadoes. STAFF PHOTO / SARAH FRANKS
Photo: SARAH FRANKS
Photo: SARAH FRANKS

Months after the tornadoes, help still needed

Two events just days apart illustrate that nearly four months after devastating tornadoes hit the Miami Valley, help is still needed and volunteers are still showing up to help with the recovery.

Local and national charities on Tuesday teamed up for delivery of couches and other home supplies to 10 families hit hard by the tornadoes. Good360 coordinated the event.

On Saturday, 150 volunteers worked to clean up areas of Old North Dayton still reeling from the EF 4 tornado that hit there.

Both events emphasized the long-term tornado recovery needs.

“What we find is about 70% of donations, both cash and any kind, happen within the first two months,” said Tiffany Everett, senior director of disaster recovery for Good360. “And only 5% of those are dedicated towards long-term recovery. There’s no disaster that recovers in two months.”

Matt Tepper is president of the Old North Dayton Neighborhood Association, an area that had 700 volunteers come to help the first Saturday after the Memorial Day tornadoes. He was happy that last Saturday’s event drew the crowd that it did, including about 100 University of Dayton students.

Relief efforts naturally lose steam, Tepper explained.

“Three months of cleaning— what people don’t understand is when you have an event like this, you don’t just come through and clean it up and it’s done. It’s a continual process,” he said.

Saturday was the Old North Neighborhood’s third major, organized volunteer event, though residents who were more fortunate, like Tepper, said neighbors checking-in on each other is now an everyday event.

“Unfortunately, we’re in the middle of it, so we can’t go home and ignore it,” Tepper said.

What people like Tepper and Chris Armentrout, vice president of the Old North Dayton Neighborhood Association, are stressing is the need for awareness and momentum to continue— even years from now.

Coordinated efforts like The Dayton Foundation and the more recently formed Miami Valley Long-Term Recovery Operations Group are definite pulls in the right direction, Tepper said, but each “phase” in the recovery process will take longer than the one before. To keep the progress going, Tepper said, the same urgency that existed in the direct aftermath needs to continue for months and years to come.

“Some home owners have opted to just go ahead and tear down,” Armentrout said. “Some are trying to salvage what they can. It’s a slow process. It will take years to get it back to ‘normal.’ But we’ve made big strides in that.”

Good360, a charitable organization located in Virginia, partnered with Manna Worldwide and local nonprofits including St. Vincent de Paul and the Living City Project, almost immediately after 15 tornadoes tore through the Miami Valley. It’s an organization experienced with aiding in long-term recovery after disaster strikes.

Good360 is still helping with the 2005 Hurricane Katrina recovery, but its work in the Miami Valley has no end date, Everett said. The immediate emergency phase is over, but this is when the community needs to stay engaged with victims the most.

“It’s important that the community members stay in the community,” Everett said. “We want to encourage them to have hope, know that we have organizations nationally that are thinking about you and we are doing this work day in and day out to make sure that you’re not forgotten.”

Ben Crawford, a UD sophomore studying political science, volunteered at Saturday’s cleanup.

“I feel like what happens with disasters like this a lot of times, right after it happens, people are so on board with it,” Crawford said. “But it doesn’t just go away after it’s not sensational anymore. Right now, nobody really talks about it, it’s not huge in the news, but it’s still an imminent problem that needs attention.”

Emma Hughes, a junior at UD studying communication management and media production and a volunteer at Saturday’s event, said she experienced first-hand how people can forget about the devastation.

“Where we go to school, you don’t see any damage,” Hughes said. “But this is just 15 minutes north, and there are things destroyed.”

Slipping into devastation ignorance could be unintentional, but easy for many people in the Miami Valley who were not directly affected — simply because they do not see the destruction every day.

“Our residents see it every day,” Tepper said. “You look across towards the skyline and see the tangle of trees. That’s a constant reminder. … What you need to do is reach out. You need to keep that momentum going. Take the time, a little bit of extra time, to find that group that’s going to use you and then get involved. We need it out here.”

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