This article is the second is a series of three (or more) articles about the May 13-14 Flood Event in Yates County. The first article tells what my wife and I experienced that night.
Friday afternoon, as the electrician was installing the circuit breaker panel in my cellar, and I was outside picking up some debris, a Mennonite stopped at my property. He introduced himself as a foreman of a Mennonite Relief Crew. He was trying to find homes that needed help cleaning up after the flood. He explained that there would be no cost—it was their way of doing “God’s Work”. He told me that they could be here either Saturday afternoon or Monday morning, explaining that he had already promised a neighbor he would be there Saturday morning. I signed a contact saying that they would be “held harmless” for any damage might occur (ie breaking a window, etc.). I signed.
They arrived Saturday morning at 9:15. The foreman explained that he got more volunteers than expected. He has one crew at the neighbor he had mentioned, a crew for my house and two more at houses across the street. He expected 10 workers and got more than forty.
I took the crew to the basement, pointed out the few things that I thought could be saved and confirmed that everything else should go—washer & dryer, a sofa and a love seat, a seldom used tread-mill, the stored out door Christmas decorations, and more.
I thought they were just going to put the junk in the back yard—but the foreman told me that he has a dump truck coming, and everything was going to be taken to a group of dumpsters the Village had set up at an Industrial Park across town.
Four or five young men started on the basement, three more had shovels and rakes and worked on removing debris, gravel and mud from the front of the house.
The foreman asked if I would go to the Salvation Army set up in a parking lot across town for some water for the boys. I told him the the American Red Cross was set up at the High School—a lot closer. My wife and I, who parked our cars at a Sports Complex down the street, drove to the Red Cross—and came back with more than water—they gave boxes of granola bars, fruit juices and milk, pastries, fruit and vegetables, along with cleaning products. We put the stuff on the front porch, and members from all the crews, and others, helped themselves to food all day.
It became a community event. The Mennonites had tools—shovels and rakes, one power washer, a wheel-barrow or two—but the neighbors had more. The equipment was shared amongst the neighborhood with the Mennonite Foreman in charged.
The dump truck was continuously making trips trips to the dumpsters all day. They took two loads from my cellar alone.
A couple from the Baptist Church where we attend came with other clean-up material including bleach—which was used to fight cellar mold. The Mennonites scraped and moved the mud out of the garage. They patched the driveway and leveled out the parking area in front of the garage.
I was able to talk to the crew members as they took a break. These young men of going to Mississippi during the hurricanes, Ohio after tornados, and to NYC after Sandy. They all seemed to live in the area and was surprised of the destruction so close to home. They asked about the night of the storm. They are proud of their work.
The Mennonites moved to the Yates County area in the mid 70’s. At first the children came to Public Schools. I was teaching in Dresden at the time and had a few as students before they built their own schools. They moved to Yates County because of the number of farms that were available. In Lancaster County PA family farms were often divided up between the sons. I’m told the size of the farms were getting pretty small. Obviously they are hard workers, and they fixed up the older farms that they purchased. Our community has benefited by businesses they started. Many are members of local Fire Departments. They are an important part of the Yates County community.
One of the biggest areas hit outside of Penn Yan was in the Town of Jerusalem—south of Penn Yan along Keuka Lake. Camp Good Days and Special Times (http://www.campgooddays.org/flood/flood5-14.htm) was especially hit hard. Their website has, in red letters “Due to the outpouring of volunteers, please do not arrive at camp without beforehand letting us know that you will be coming.”
Fearing that I will miss naming some groups, I’ll just say that many religious, service clubs, and student groups, businesses and volunteers either came to help clean up, raised money, or provided services for the the flood victims. Benefit Concerts are being organized, and I saw that the profits from a Geneva Church’s BINGO Night will be donated to help the victims.
Penn Yan has a group lead by the local Methodists named “The Living Well”. It organized to fill the void when the Red Cross left Penn Yan when their funds were reduced through the Sequester. During the flood The Living Well organized quickly to coordinate the volunteer services as well as providing food, water, cleaning supplies, and other important items and services to help our community.
We feel fortunate to get as much help as we did in Yates County. I am certain the spirit of helping neighbors–even people you don’t know–is commonplace across the NY 23rd Congressional District.
The clean up started, but that is far from being back to normal. That would take more than volunteers. That takes time and money. The next article will be about Flood Insurance and Government Disaster Funding.