The Washington Times-Herald

November 20, 2013

Neighbors helping neighbors

By Lindsay Owens Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald

---- — Early Tuesday morning more than 150 volunteers headed out to help friends, neighbors, family, and total strangers to clear debris from the area so many call home. While the streets are now clear and the power lines have been replaced, for many of the displaced families, the work is just beginning. Memorabilia, furniture, clothes, and everything they called “home” was left in piles of rubble after Sunday’s EF-2 tornado tore through the west side of Washington.

“We’ve had at least 150 volunteers sign in this morning,” said DJ Bechtel of the Red Cross. “And with the number of heavy equipment operators out there, there are lot more.”

Beginning at 7:30 Tuesday morning, volunteers with equipment were allowed to begin cleanup efforts, with other volunteers allowed in at 9 a.m. All volunteers were and are still being asked to check in and receive an armband from the volunteer station, located at Kingdom Life Assembly of God, 320 S. Meridian St.

The outpouring of support from the Washington community, as well as other surrounding areas has been tremendous. “We’ve had so many people bring food down here and come out to help. The generosity is incredible,” said Bechtel.

Bechtel said the volunteer station not only serves as a checkpoint for volunteers and a place for victims and their families to get a warm meal, but also as a place for victims to request the help they need. Angela Quast said a list of needs for the families is being maintained. Requests range for help with moving from a damaged residence, to requests for flashlights or other light sources in homes where power has not been restored. Those in need may also post requests on the Washington Indiana Tornado Relief Facebook page. The Red Cross is also now working to provide aide to those in need on a case-by-case basis.

“We want people to come here and tell us what we can do to help them. If they need boxes or help removing debris, we have people here that are wanting to help,” said Quast.

Danyelle Widner and about 25 other volunteers were stationed between Cindy Kay Lane and Daviess Drive removing limbs and other debris. Widner and the other volunteers are a part of Helping His Hands, a mission organization based in Vincennes and founded by Scott Shipman about 20 years ago.

Shipman said that Helping His Hands has helped with relief efforts after the tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma earlier this year, in Joplin, Mo., and in other areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The group has also helped in the Indiana towns like Emison, Oakland City and Henryville.

“When disasters strike, we try to be there as soon as we can,” said Shipman. “We take a lot of Vincennes University students to help with relief too. We’ve taken groups as small as four to help and groups larger than 100.”

Shipman sent a group to Illinois on Sunday and relief efforts started in Daviess County on Monday and will continue the rest of the week.

Widner was one of several local individuals who traveled to Oklahoma earlier this year to help with cleanup and rebuilding. “You don’t have to be an electrician or a carpenter to come help. You can come help pick up limbs and other debris. We’ve had people of all ages here helping,” said Widner.

The youngest volunteer on hand was 4-year-old Shawn Carter Condra who was helping pick up sticks and limbs.

“When I went to Oklahoma earlier this year, I knew the trip would change me as a person, but I didn’t know how much. When you go there, and you see the devastation --- people sleeping in tents when its 118 degrees out, it has an impact on you. You want to help,” said Widner. “Now we are able to help at home, but we couldn’t have gotten this much accomplished without the help of the county highway garage and the city electric and street departments who brought down their equipment.”

Helping His Hands not only helps with cleanup, but help with rebuilding as well. “We have had a lot of people who have said that they know their insurance won’t cover everything, and we’ve told them to let us know what they need after the insurance covers what they will and we’ll be here to help with the rest,” said Shipman.

“All they have to do is call and let us know what we can do for them.”

Shipman said that from 2011 until July 2013, volunteers with his organization have supplied more than $575,000 worth of free labor for those in need. “That’s not only cleaning things up, but it’s rebuilding houses and neighborhoods as well. That’s just for labor. We send a lot of supplies as well.”

To contact Helping His Hands, contact Shipman at 812-881-6330.

The city also has started efforts to pick up limbs and other debris from the streets in the devastated areas. Limbs, metal, household trash, and waste food items are asked to placed in separate piles at the side of the street for pick up. On Thursday, Lemon and S.W. Fourth streets are scheduled for removal from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. Meridian and Sycamore streets will have items removed between 10 a.m. and noon.