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Neighbors help each other after North Spokane windstorm

By Mary Stamp

North Spokane County churches responded quickly to provide funds, meals and recovery assistance for the families hurt and traumatized when more than 300 trees fell on the Riverside Village Mobile Home Park during a windstorm on July 23 in Chattaroy.

Riverside Mobile Home Park
Windstorm toppled trees and damaged mobile homes.

“Scores of big trees fell on trailers, but no one was hurt,” said John Yoder, who retired in June after 35 years of teaching political science at Whitworth University.  He is one of several recently retired people who were readily available to help.

Coordinated through New Hope Resource Center, a long-range disaster recovery committee, the Riverside Long Term Recovery Organization, formed with people from churches, the community, the Red Cross and North Spokane County.  John, a member of Whitworth Presbyterian Church and Brad Beal, a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church, are co-chairs. Janeen Leachman, director of New Hope, is serving as the caseworker. 

Brad, who recently retired as administrator at Mead High School, brings logistical experience from work with the National Guard Disaster Relief. 

“The very first responders,” John noted, “were the people in the mobile home park, where 40 of 170 units were damaged.  Two residents set up a camp kitchen while the power was out, and the people pooled their food.”

“Residents took responsibility.  It was remarkable what the people did for themselves. I’m impressed with their initiative and resilience,” said John, who has seen similar resilience, organizing and sharing by poor people when he took Whitworth students to Africa.  “People who do not have many resources are willing to share them with others in need.”

Park manager Sandy McCoin relocated some residents to other units and helped counsel many people.  Several residents were so afraid of the possibility of trees falling in another storm they left the park, he said. 

Immediately after the disaster Janet Yoder, who is active at New Hope Resource Center, helped organize churches to provide meals.  Many people remarked that it was good to see the Catholic, Presbyterian, LDS and nondenominational churches in the area work together to provide meals for two weeks at the park. 

On Aug. 30, at a final dinner at the Riverside Community Center, church volunteers provided not only food but also entertainment.

“Some provided music, and one group showed the movie, “Frozen,” on a big outdoor screen. It was a way to say the surrounding community cares about the people experiencing the trauma,” he said.

John was also impressed with the quick response of the churches and community, and how important it is to have an organization such as New Hope to draw on the resources of many people, churches and service groups, as well as vetted volunteers to bring together resources and mobilize people to fix roofs, make minor repairs and connect with the county planning commission.

“I’m impressed by the good will of so many people in churches, government and civic groups, working together to help people address the varied financial issues they face,” he said.

The immediate needs were for funds to rent storage units, to buy tarps to cover the mobile homes and to meet other emergency needs.  Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church sent a grant request on the Friday after the windstorm to the Presbyterian Church USA.  By Monday, the national office had delivered $5,000.

“To me, that response reinforces why our denominations are important,” John said.

“The mobile home park houses many low-income seniors and disabled people.  Some units were in poor condition before the storm,” said John.  “The long-range recovery committee helped people move possessions to storage units.”

Once they had the storage units, the Knights of Columbus at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Colbert came with pickups and helped move furniture and belongings.

John Keith, a retired industrial arts teacher at Mead High School began doing repairs. 

Jim Palmer, Sr., organized an effort by the nearby Latter-day Saints church to bring generators to provide power during the two-week power outage.

As the Riverside Long Term Recovery Organization has worked, they found that half of the units destroyed were owner occupied and half were rented.  Few have any insurance or enough insurance to cover the loss.  Some homes have little value.  There are costs to moving the homeowners and renters.  The SBA can provide loans for a few who are eligible, John reported.  The committee works with those who cannot obtain loans.

For the first two months, the disaster relief committee, which was organized with the help of Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), met weekly at Colbert Presbyterian Church to assess needs and legal requirements. 

“We quickly realized there are no one-size-fits-all solutions,” said John.

In response to individual needs, the committee has arranged to  repair some mobile homes; house one woman in a hotel while SNAP helped her relocate; replace a car windshield; assist with arrangements to remove trees and send debris at no charge to a pulp mill, and receive donations of money, furniture and household items.

In the process of the disaster work, John said he has seen how people show Christ’s love to each other. 

“While churches may debate theology and the Bible, and many see Christians arguing, this is an example of Christians cooperating and working together,” he said.

For information, call 466-1627 or email johnyoder@whitworth.edu.





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