After all the car time last night, I had trouble getting to sleep when we returned home. So I visited the Cedar Rapids Gazette site and some other Iowa flood related sites, and found the blog of Katie Graham, who has been working in the AmeriCorps office this summer. Good stuff.
Information on the scope of the flooding can be found at this Wiki article. There is a town called Palo that, we were told, has 691 homes and all but one flooded. The town still does not have power. (How can that be!?)
There was a map in the volunteer center showing the Cedar Rapids area and the 100-year and 500-year flood plains of the Cedar river. The water was well outside both.
One of the comments I read in a Gazette article quoted a young volunteer as saying that it wasn't really emotional because these weren't your homes or your neighbors' - you just went in and did the work. Well, yes.
And no. The homeowner we met on Saturday, Vicky, told us many amusing stories of the flood and things floating up and getting lodged in their yard (they were the high water point on her block - people across the street had water in their basements but not in their homes. Vicky was delightful and funny and gutsy, but she's had over two months of living with this situation. When we got to her home, all the personal items were out and disposed of, and we were just taking out walls, ceilings, floors, windows.
Such a tragedy to have your 1890's era home gutted this way. To have your personal belongings ruined. To spend months displaced and living with family. There was laughter this weekend, but I'm sure there have been many tears along her path.
I heard a keynote speech at a conference once, by a woman who had worked in the UN High Commission for Refugees. What she said has always stuck with me: "Every single refugee I meet says the same thing: 'I never thought it could happen to me.'"
Just in from Cedar Rapids. It was a great trip and I'll be reflecting on it for the next few days, probably post more about it here.
We drove up on Thursday and arrived at about midnight. Eleven of us in four cars. Friday morning we reported to the Churches United volunteer center and they sent us out to help with mucking in a house...there was already a team there but they had to leave at 11:30 to go back to California (and we thought we came a long way...) so we started work with them and were prepared to finish out the day.
However...shortly after lunch, Cynde and I were taking a break in the front yard and two cars full of AmeriCorps volunteers pulled up and said, "I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you to leave." I said, "For taking a BREAK!?" I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't. We all had to leave. Apparently there was a threat called into the main office and the sheriff required CU to evacuate all of their workers.
Who threatens volunteers!? Apparently there's been a lot of unhappiness in the area because there are some folks who want jobs doing the work that volunteers are doing for free. That's the only possibility we were ever able to figure out...And, indeed, we had to clock in our hours on time sheets, because we were "paid" $19 an hour for our work...it went straight to local relief work. It's a mechanism that enables the transfer of funds from the federal to local system.
So, how disappointing. Churches United said they didn't know if they'd be open the next day or not (and they weren't). "But we came from Texas for two days of work!"
The God thing was that we found out via Ted's dad that the local KC hall was hosting a New Orleans group called New Orleans Cooks, who came to CR to help out in return for all the help they received after Katrina. They set up at KC and cooked wonderful Cajun food for victims and volunteers for three days, and they worked like crazy on mucking out houses, including those of some KC members. So we got to show up on their doorstep on Saturday morning and say, "here we are...send us!" And they did. Turned out there was a home that needed to be finished and we spent our day doing that, while the group that had worked there the day before got to go do another home that wouldn't have been touched otherwise. :)
We stopped back by the KC hall to return a ladder and had some amazing food...including cheese grits, yum.
We were gorgeously hosted by Ted's family (he grew up there), his parents and sisters and a couple that are friends of theirs. We had two big family dinners at his parents' home. They made us part of the group and it was fun and happy and, oh, you all, it is COOL there. Local people kept saying, "oh, it's so hot today!" Ha, it was in the low 90's max! And we were fortunate to have breezes both days.
In short, it was a pleasure and a joy. Here are a few phone-camera photos - others took real camera pix so there will be better ones to share eventually!
Here are Angela and Mike, tearing out the dining room ceiling - water damaged:
Brent and Peggy tearing out the bathroom walls:
and Sarah, Ken, and Cynde lying in the yard taking a break. Check out the pile of debris we have taken out:
(Breaks are very important!)
I'm grateful to our congregation, who sponsored us with very generous donations of gift cards so that our supplies could be purchased and we were a self-sufficient team, supplied with hammers, crowbars, soap, towels, masks, goggles, disinfectant, gloves, shovels, and so many things. We were able to leave most of those items there for the use of future workers. Thank you, Annunciation! for your support!
Grateful to Ted's family, who made this possible and made us at home
Grateful to God for great weather and safe travel
Grateful to Brandon, who took care of our dogs (who are VERY glad to see us now)
Getting ready to go on my first ever church mission trip, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this weekend. Our group of eleven will be hosted by friends and family of our friend and Cedar Rapids native Ted, and our jobs will be "mucking out." Information is available at Churches United and Corridor Recovery.
Keep us in your prayers, please...we are driving up on Thursday, July 31 and returning on Sunday, August 3.
So...those of you who have done this kind of work in the past...what advice would you give me?
I am excited that I may finally make it on one of our church's mission trips! A caravan of folks is driving (that's right) to Cedar Rapids, Iowa on July 31. We'll work the 1st and 2nd of August, mucking out houses that were ruined by the floods. We'll finish up on Saturday night with "the best pizza ever," according to our fine guide (who grew up there and is arranging all of this).