Louise Kienzle, Oregon-Idaho Conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission coordinator, is working to help survivors of the floods in the Pendleton, Oregon, and Walla Walla, Wash., areas.
She is serving as the co-coordinator of volunteers and hopes to build a base for long-term recovery. But right now, Kienzle is calling for volunteers from both the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest conferences to help before winter weather sets in. Immediate priorities include cattle fence building and mobile home skirting.
“As volunteers, we strive to serve with compassion and help survivors return to a safe, sanitary, and secure primary residence” Kienzle explains.
Volunteers must be 16 or older (14-15 working with a parent). At this time, volunteers must be able to commute from their homes, as no shared housing or meals can be arranged following COVID-19 safety guidelines and Greater Northwest Area Reimagining Life Together protocols.
In February 2020, the Blue Mountain region suffered its worst flooding in decades as a result of unusually heavy rain and snowpack melt in a two-day period. More than 600 families in Washington and Oregon were affected by swollen creeks and rivers. Just as community organizations began to mobilize in response, they were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Normally, disaster response involves federal, state, and county representatives physically surveying damage and contacting survivors so they can apply for assistance. While some initial assessments were made, the normal process for assistance was delayed by the inability to meet survivors.
Most people that lost homes or had homes severely damaged are in transitional housing right now.
“Rebuilding can feel overwhelming, and even though financial aid may be available, it usually is never enough,” Kienzle said. “Involving volunteers allows for funds to be stretched and many times doubled or tripled in value.”
The Blue Mountain Region Long-Term Recovery Group (BMRLTRG) was organized in the wake of this flooding and models a nationwide best practice for recovering from disasters. The areas of concern include Walla Walla, Columbia, and Umatilla counties, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. While the current focus is recovery from flood-related damage, the group provides collaborative preparation for any future disasters that may impact the region. This is a coalition of community organizations including non-profit, faith-based, private sector, community action, foundations, and other groups.
After the winter, more types of work will be needed repairing structures, debris removal, hazardous tree removal and more.
Individuals and group leaders interested in volunteering, may visit the Get Involved section of the long-term recovery website to learn how to volunteer and what skills are needed. Dates can be scheduled around availability of volunteers. Contact Louise Kienzle for more information at 541-620-0989, or firstname.lastname@example.org.