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Derecho cleanup in Grinnell is a community affair

Student+residents+of+Broad+street+confront+the+damage+and+debris+left+by+the+derecho+which+tore+through+Iowa+in+mid-August.+Photo+contributed+by+Sarah+Weltz.
Student residents of Broad street confront the damage and debris left by the derecho which tore through Iowa in mid-August. Photo contributed by Sarah Weltz.

Over a week after a major storm left much of Iowa without power and damaged trees and buildings across the state, Grinnell is beginning to recover with help from community members and students alike.

Allison Risser ’21 was working outside on the prairie at the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA) when the derecho struck. “All of a sudden, the sky got super dark and yellow and the wind got crazy,” she said. “We were driving back, and it was just in this four-seater ATV [with] no walls or windshield, so we were just getting completely obliterated by rain that was going sideways.”

Risser and her coworkers waited out the storm in the main CERA building. When they drove back into Grinnell, they saw the extent of the storm’s destruction.

“There were so many trees that were down, and we drove by some of the farm areas, and we were looking at this old silo, and we were like, oh, that’s weird, it doesn’t have a top, maybe it’s not being used. And then we drove just a couple feet more and saw it crumpled up on the ground,” she said. “High Street was just completely blocked off on some parts because there were these massive trees that had fallen down.”

All of a sudden, the sky got super dark and yellow and the wind got crazy. – Allison Risser ’21

Risser’s house in Grinnell hadn’t escaped the storm either. “You literally could not get in the front door because a tree was blocking it, because a tree was on the house,” she said.

But as soon as the storm cleared, Grinnell residents began chipping in to clean up. Risser said, “There were all these people coming out of their houses with their chainsaws, just ready to go and clean up. That’s the one thing – you see people coming together, which is cool.”

Sarah Weltz ’21 participated in the student clean-up effort both off- and on-campus. She noted that the initial work focused more on the city streets, but it soon became clear that significant clearing would need to be done on campus as well.

“That task was going to fall on FM, so there was a lot interest from of students who had helped around their neighborhoods … so that FM [didn’t] have to do it all by themselves,” Weltz said.

Meanwhile, townspeople and students continued to offer help where they could, bringing out axes, chainsaws and tractors to chop up and haul away downed trees from the houses of people without the necessary equipment.

We have the food that we can’t save but we cook it and feed it to the community. – Kamal Hammouda, owner of Relish

Community businesses offered their services as well. When power began to be restored to essential service providers, as per Alliant Energy’s hierarchy for post-storm repairs, some offered the use of their outlets for phone-charging stations. Pagliai’s Pizza has been providing food to clean-up crews and Alliant technicians, and Relish provided nightly free first-come-first-serve take-out meals for the duration of the power outage.

“We have the food that we can’t save but we cook it and feed it to the community,” owner Kamal Hammouda wrote in an email to The S&B. “It is a win-win.”

Weltz said that she was struck by the students and community members who banded together to get the clean-up work done. “Coming from New York City, when a natural disaster happens, usually the city’s in charge of clearing the streets, so it was really new for me to see the community as the ones who came together to clean up.”

Below is a list of organizations that are currently accepting donations to support the Grinnell community as the town and its residents recover from the storm. This list was provided by the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce.

Grinnell Food Coalition

The Grinnell Food Coalition was formed to address food insecurity issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now will expand to help meet the same needs caused by the derecho. Gifts may be made online at https://ahrensfamilyfoundation.org/donate-online/ (select Grinnell Food Coaltion) or via mail to PO Box 284, Grinnell Iowa 50112.

Grinnell Small Business Relief Fund

Formed in a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this fund is housed with the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce and provides financial support to small businesses in Grinnell. The fund will aid small businesses who may have been financially impacted by the derecho as well. Donations may be made online at https://www.grinnellchamber.org/en/business_resources/grinnell_small_business_relief/ or via mail to PO Box 538, Grinnell Iowa 50112.

Grinnell United Way

Supports multiple agencies, many of whom have already seen an uptick in workload and traffic due to the derecho. Agencies supported by Grinnell United Way are able to support individuals directly and monies received now through September 10 will be funneled directly to these agencies to aid in disaster support. Gifts made after that date will go towards the Grinnell United Way’s annual campaign which is set to kick-off on September 15. Online donations may be made at https://www.grinnellunitedway.org or via mail at PO Box 121, Grinnell Iowa 50112.

JPK Grinnell Area Mental Health Consortium

The purpose of this fund is to serve those in the Grinnell area with mental health needs who are financially otherwise unable to afford services or medications. The fund was established to reimburse providers, help defray medication costs, and to establish and support educational endeavors in the areas of mental health and substance abuse. Online donations may be made at https://ahrensfamilyfoundation.org/donate-online/ or via mail to PO Box 284, Grinnell Iowa 50112.

Nonprofit Emergency Relief Fund (NERF)

In the wake of COVID-19 and the recent Derecho, local organizations including Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation, Grinnell College, United Way, Grinnell Mutual and Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation have established the Nonprofit Emergency Relief Fund as a way to support local nonprofit organizations in Poweshiek County negatively affected in 2020. Online donations may be submitted at https://greaterpcf.org/online-donations/ or may be mailed to PO Box 344, Grinnell Iowa 50112.

Poweshiek Housing Assistance

The Poweshiek Housing Assistance Fund was established in 2020 by the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation after a Housing Coalition was formed in 2019 over growing concerns of homelessness in Poweshiek County. Funds designated here will help support newly found housing challenges due to the derecho and may be used to help cover rent assistance, utility assistance and assistance to mitigate damage to housing. Online donations may be made at https://ahrensfamilyfoundation.org/donate-online/ (select Poweshiek Housing Assistance Fund) or via mail to PO Box 284, Grinnell Iowa 50112

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