By Melody Vallieu
Editor, Miami Valley Today
UNION TOWNSHIP — Heather Bland was horrified when she learned her hometown area of Union Township was slammed with an F2 tornado on Memorial Day, damaging and even destroying properties for miles. One of those included her childhood home.
So, she decided to do something about it.
Bland, who said she has a marketing background, knew she could organize a volunteer event in a short amount of time, and so she did.
Setting up a command post out of Miami Lanes bowling alley in West Milton this past weekend, Bland, now a resident just down the road in Union, asked volunteers to come, sign in and help put the community back together, one limb at a time.
What she didn’t quite expect was the outpouring of help that would walk through the doors. More than 500 volunteers, both local and from out of state, took to the storm-ravaged areas on Saturday to help those affected begin to put their lives back together. They brought with them more than 50 pieces of heavy equipment, Bland said, including backhoes, bucket trucks and excavators, all machines needed to clear the areas. Another 150 volunteers showed up Sunday to do more of the same.
“We had just an outpouring of support with people and we were able to shed some light on what needed to be done,” Bland said. “We just want to lift the burden as best we can.”
Bland said she believes while the Miami County Emergency Management Agency plans for such catastrophes, she doesn’t believe they were prepared for the amount of properties and people that were affected following the tornadoes.
Bland said as of the weekend, trees remained on top of cars, houses and across driveways. After meeting with the EMA, Bland said she first was made to understand that before helping those with such issues, homeowners had to check with their insurance to make sure debris could be removed from the homes without affecting their homeowner’s insurance. She said EMA staff also gave her some rough guidelines for the volunteer efforts.
“A lot of insurance companies won’t cover the trees,” said Bland, who said the bucket trucks were able to cut down trees in some of the ravaged areas. “We had tree companies and construction companies asking to help for free.
“The goal was to restore some normalcy back to people’s lives,” said Bland, who she also received help from her husband Charles and even her 11-month old daughter who was the “smallest volunteer to put smiles on people’s faces.”
Fuyao Glass America, Bland’s employer, sponsored a cookout for those affected and volunteers and fed more than 500 people on Saturday, Bland said. She said the company also donated six pallets of water to the cause. Other businesses stepped up as well, she said, including Fricker’s, Troy’s Dollar Tree, Proctor and Gamble and more. She said a Kona Ice vendor even drove around in his truck delivering 350 pounds of ice. Evenflo also came with car seats to replace ones that may have been destroyed.
Bland said volunteers also drove around with five trailers offering water and supplies, and even taking orders for what they still need.
“God bless the community. Even the people that were impacted the most are worried about others,” Bland said.
She said volunteer efforts will continue and those in need of items or looking to volunteer can reach out on the Facebook page at Laura / West Milton Disaster Relief. She said Ludlow Falls and Laura residents are also included in this volunteer drive. Miami Lanes remains full of supplies to continue to help those in need, according to Bland.
Bland said those wishing to have volunteers help with debris removal first need to speak to their homeowner’s insurance to get permission. They then can contact her on the Facebook page, through private message, with their name, address, family size, what needs removed and what kind of equipment they would believe will be needed to remove the debris, and what kind of supplies they might need.
“I need people to express explicit needs so I get them the help they need,” she said. “We don’t care how you are impacted, we can help. Some people are just out of work because of damage or lack of electricity in other areas and have been off work for more than a week and will need help. We’re here for them. I will do as much as I can as long as I can.”
While exhausting, and not even close to being over, Bland said the community coming together to help one another is amazing to watch.
“It’s been heartwarming, overwhelming and humbling all at the same time,” Bland said. “It’s a beautiful disaster.”