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severe weather

Minnesota group’s arrival ‘keeps this hope alive’ for tornado survivors

Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2020 @ 1:00 AM


            Matt McClellan, left, of Stewartville, Minn., helps install a door on a house in Old North Dayton damaged by Memorial Day tornadoes. McClellan is one of about 25 volunteers with the North American Lutheran Church that arrived in Dayton over the weekend to help rebuild tornado-damaged properties . CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
            Chris Stewart
Matt McClellan, left, of Stewartville, Minn., helps install a door on a house in Old North Dayton damaged by Memorial Day tornadoes. McClellan is one of about 25 volunteers with the North American Lutheran Church that arrived in Dayton over the weekend to help rebuild tornado-damaged properties . CHRIS STEWART / STAFF(Chris Stewart)

As other volunteer rebuilding organizations firm-up plans to reach tornado survivors later this spring, one out-of-state group arrived over the weekend to start repairs on houses in Old North Dayton and Trotwood.

Earlier in the disaster, workers with the North American Lutheran Church connected with homeowners Crystal Ford and Ronald Centers Jr., who live on Bickmore Avenue in Dayton.

“They came knocking on the door out of nowhere when we were trying to figure out how we were going to do everything,” Ford said.

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On Monday, weathered plywood covered upstairs windows while plastic remained stretched across a first-floor window. With no operable furnace, the couple and their three teen daughters are counting on small electric heaters for warmth.

The tornado also put a tree in their kitchen and “cracked the front door into three pieces and messed up the back one,” Centers said.

But within an hour Monday, a crew of six men nearly had the front and back doors replaced a day after driving through 10 inches of snow in their home state of Minnesota to reach Dayton.

“A snowplow was getting pulled out of a ditch when we passed the interstate,” said Matt McClellan, one of the volunteers from Stewartville, Minn.

McClellan, one of about 25 volunteers from the North American Lutheran Church, will stay in the area a week; other volunteers from the group will remain for two weeks, making repairs both inside and outside the houses of people who were uninsured or underinsured.

MORE: ‘Zombie’ properties haunt neighborhoods after tornadoes

About 650 individuals or families have been entered into a disaster case management system for those unable to recover on their own using insurance or other means. The Miami Valley Long-Term Disaster Recovery Operations Group expects somewhere between 300 and 500 homes require substantial repairs or rebuilds.

Mary Bates, national director of the North American Lutheran Church Disaster Response, said the group followed up on its own with several hundred families that sought help and is now working with about 20 families on repairs not originating through the local operations group case management system.

“I would like to be able to help more,” she said. “We are all volunteers. None of us get paid. We work for the good lord and everything we do – 100% of the contributions — go straight to families.”

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Bates said life is a struggle for many of the families the group assists, including Ford and Centers, who are living on his pay delivering pizzas.

“They need help,” Bates said. “A lot of families in this neighborhood don’t have insurance, do not have any resources in the bank or any way to recover, and that’s where we as a church can answer God’s call to serve.”

McClellan, a carpenter by trade, volunteers “for the joy of helping people.”

He responded to his first disaster in 1998 and has helped put the pieces back together every year since following floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, included the massive 2011 Joplin, Mo., twister.

Bates said volunteers from the denomination with more than 400 people are scheduled into July. The workers in Dayton the next week or two are staying at the Salem Lutheran Church in West Alexandria.

Other families are getting assistance, said Jim Lopez, a caseworker volunteer at Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville. He is helping a single father with two sons, one with special needs.

“He has been struggling with providing care in a safe environment,” Lopez said. “We have reached out and are helping them with some inside work that needs to be done. The walls were pretty much broken down.

Matt Tepper, president of the Old North Dayton Neighborhood Association, said the Lutheran group has been on the scene since the largest Memorial Day tornado cut a path across Montgomery County.

“This is the one group that has been out here constantly working all the time,” Tepper said.

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While the lack of repairs can cause survivors to think help will never arrive, seeing progress gives everyone hope, Tepper said.

“At this point people are hoping for help. And hope doesn’t last that long …Even if you had all the insurance in the world and you had everything taken care of, and you walk out of your front porch and you look down the street and see your neighbor suffering because they didn’t have insurance or they were underinsured, that really dashes hope,” he said. “This is wonderful. It’s this effort that keeps this hope alive.”

Tepper said people should call 2-1-1 to get an the long-term recovery group’s case management list but can also call the Lutheran group, which may be able to tackle a project sooner.

“If this group can help before 2-1-1 can help them, that just puts them that much further ahead,” he said. “Time is of the essence.”

Ford said the out-of-state volunteers who showed up at her house were a blessing.

“They’ve done more for us than they know,” she said. “I can barely describe how this helps us.”

Do you still need help or want to donate?

Contact Tim Schubach, Living Water Lutheran Church

North American Lutheran Church Disaster Task Force Project Manager

937-388-4840

The church will accept tornado donations in the form of a personal check or Home Depot or Lowe’s Home Improvement gift cards.

Living Water Lutheran Church

667 Miamisburg Centerville Road

Centerville, OH 45459

More help for tornado survivors

Call 2-1-1 on Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to be connected to a tornado assistance operator who will screen you to assess your needs, and can connect you to a case manager to help you navigate available resources. If 2-1-1 is not available in your area, call 937-225-3000 or the toll-free number 855-405-7629.