Flood Relief Center is open for businessWhat started as a plan to mobilize volunteers and donations quickly morphed into a one-stop-shop for all things flood-related.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
What started as a plan to mobilize volunteers and donations quickly morphed into a one-stop-shop for all things flood-related.
The Flood Relief Center for Carlton County is located inside the National Guard Armory in Cloquet, located on Highway 33 South. The center hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, until the flood cleanup is finished.
Upstairs there’s a call center – phone 218-384-1112 – manned by at last half a dozen volunteers. Downstairs there are more volunteers and people who need help in the aftermath of the last week’s massive flash floods.
Walking into the armory, the first thing a person sees are the many tables stacked with supplies – cleaning products, clothes, hygiene items, blankets, shoes, food – for people impacted by the flood that take up two-thirds of the massive room. Intake specialists sit at other tables lining one wall of the room, more volunteers and public employees who interview flood victims as they come in to help determine what their needs are and how best to help them.
“It’s like a triage system,” said Jill Hatfield, executive director of Volunteer Services of Carlton County, who did much of the organizational work to bring the Flood Relief Center together starting last Thursday when she awoke to find her own driveway flooded. “We try to determine what their needs are and then help accordingly.”
Needs might be as simple as cleaning supplies and advice, or food, clothing, housing, transportation, or simply help from volunteers, whether it’s carrying wet stuff out of the basement or hauling trash to the local landfill or transfer station.
People manning the phones in the call center upstairs are doing the same thing over the phone: assessing needs, trying to match needs to services, listening to the horror stories of the flood.
“As of Tuesday afternoon, Call Center coordinator Deb Bahen estimated her group of volunteers had taken information from more than 200 flood victims.
“We take both calls about volunteering and calls for assistance,” she said.
And the calls keep coming in, which means more volunteers are needed, as well as more donations.
They are in need of a wide range of skills and donations. Both indoor and outdoor volunteers are needed with people who can help answer phones, do data entry, handle the intake of donations, lift heavy items and those who can help people remove debris from homes.
All volunteers must be registered through this center, which will be operated by Volunteer Services of Carlton County. Keeping track of volunteer hours will help the county with any applications for state or federal aid.
When the Flood Relief Center opened Saturday – after the previously booked wedding was over – Hatfield said people starting coming in almost immediately.
“Some of them hadn’t eaten since Wednesday,” she said. “At that point all we had was pizza that a local business had sent down for the volunteers. So we fed them pizza.”
It has been an eye-opening experience for Hatfield, explaining that state and federal officials are now helping run the center under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “incident command system.”
All donations are tax deductible. Donated items that have already been dropped off will be sorted and distributed as needed to Carlton County folks affected by the flood. Cash is very helpful.
People can call with donations or bring donations to the center during opening hours. No furniture or appliances will be accepted at the Armory, although people can call the Flood Relief Center at 218-384-1112 with a description of any items they want to donate and donors will be matched with folks needing the donated item.
“People aren’t ready for furniture yet,” Hatfield said. “Now they need food, water, cleaning supplies … But we are going to need all kinds of furniture: beds, everything.”
Almost everyone leaves with cleaning supplies, one volunteer said.
“It’s a mess out there,” she said.