It was the pitter patter of little feet above him that motivated Don Milo to keep mucking out the wet insulation from under a mobile home in the rural community of Ferndale, Wash., the last week of June.
Milo was one of eight Early Response Team (ERT) members from the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church to help survivors of severe flooding last fall in Whatcom County in northern Washington begin the necessary work of cleaning up and mucking out their homes.
The group helped 13 low-income households over a five-day period with repairs to their homes – everything from mold remediation to removing wet insulation and more.
“It was satisfying helping people that have so little,” said Milo, who was a first-timer deploying with an UMCOR-trained ERT group. “These individuals have so little, but they do have their own homes and take care of them the best way they can.”
It was the first time in more than two-and-a-half years that a full ERT group from the Greater Northwest Area deployed in response to a natural disaster due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It was also one of the first times the PNW Conference had two bilingual translators on the trip to assist with the predominantly Spanish-speaking clients they served.
“It was uplifting and energizing and really, really good to be talking with the people we serve,” said Kathy Bryson, co-coordinator of disaster response in the Pacific Northwest Conference.
Bryson said it took time for the UMC’s ERT to deploy since the flooding happened last fall. Other disaster response partners such as Samaritan’s Purse, Team Rubicon and others have all been working with UMCOR-trained Whatcom County disaster case managers in the months since the floods. The PNW Conference was finally ready to send a team the last week of June and they staged out of Ferndale UMC with Rev. Joel Aosved.
With the help of Rev. Kristin Ellison-Oslin from Lake Forest Park, Wash., and Armando Espinoza from Fairwood UMC in Renton, Wash., the team was also able to answer questions and manage the cases better for these families who mostly spoke only Spanish. This was Espinoza’s first time deploying as an ERT as well.
“It was a wonderful experience, much more than I expected,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza has experience working on other volunteer construction projects such as Habitat for Humanity. But the retired human resources specialist with Boeing said he didn’t get as much time to do the manual labor as his counterparts, because there was a lot of translation needed.
Though Spanish-speaking disaster case managers had been through the area before, Espinoza said a lot of these families still had questions they needed answered. And even with mold remediation flyers written in Spanish, there was still a disconnect and he helped field a number of questions.
“I appreciate being able to offer a minute of help and doing God’s work,” Espinoza said. “I can’t say enough good things about the team.”
By the numbers, Bryson said the group helped 13 low-income families, which meant 24 adults, 51 children, six dogs and maybe six cats, plus one bird. They bagged and hauled away 1,900 pounds of wet insulation, and accumulated as a team more than 196 hours of volunteering during the five-day trip.
“We had some great volunteers and this is some of the toughest ERT work,” Bryson said. “They were crawling under houses – under mobile homes – less than two feet off the ground in full PPE equipment in the heat. They all did it with the biggest hearts. I was so proud.”