Hoping for a flood of money: Cash needed to repair storm-damaged homes
CAPITAL REGION Paul Reynolds estimates that it will cost $60,000 to $70,000 to repair his flood-damaged home. But he’s unsure how he’s going to pay for it. His FEMA money, about $28,000, is almost gone, and in December, his job as a custodian for the Old Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie was cut from full-time to part-time.
Fortunately for Reynolds, there is help.
Volunteers have been assisting him with the work on his house. And a new organization called Storm Aid recently gave him a $500 gift certificate to Bellevue Builders Supply, which he used to buy paint.
“Every check that comes along like that is a blessing,” Reynolds said. “We’re really getting down to the nitty gritty with the finances.”
Reynolds, 60, lives outside of Middleburgh, near Vroman’s Nose. He said Tropical Storm Irene filled his house with 16 inches of water, which among other things required him to rip up flooring, open up the walls and replace the electrical box and furnace. His kitchen needs to be rebuilt, and once that’s complete, Reynolds and his wife will be able to return home from the apartment they’re renting.
Storm Aid was created in the aftermath of the flooding caused by tropical storms Irene and Lee with the goal of assisting flood victims in Schoharie, Schenectady, Montgomery and Greene counties. “I wanted to help as many people as possible,” said Janice Thompson, the Schenectady resident who founded Storm Aid, which is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization. “It was a calling.”
Storm Aid is one of a handful of new groups in the Capital Region with the mission of helping flood-damaged communities rebuild. All of these groups have been receiving donations since their inception and hope to continue raising money to support what is expected to be a multi-year recovery effort.
“Our goal is to raise at least $100,000 plus,” Thompson said, “because we plan to be here until all of the unmet needs are met.”
The group Schoharie Area Long Term, or SALT, brings together the various flood recovery groups in Schoharie County under one umbrella, with the goal of coordinating the recovery effort and raising funds. The organization has a big goal: to raise $1.4 million this year. Right now, the group has about $100,000.
“We’re just getting started,” said the Rev. Sherri Meyer-Veen, who is chairwoman of SALT and serves as pastor of the Schoharie Reformed Church. “We need everybody to help with it.”
She said that the group is planning to step up its fundraising efforts. “We’ve done a lot of fund receiving so far, but we haven’t done much fundraising,” she said. “We’re going to turn into a fundraising organization.”
Eventually, SALT would like to provide staffing support to what has mostly been a volunteer effort. The group is interviewing for two positions now and hopes to obtain funding for another three.
“We’ve known since the beginning that this would be a long haul,” Meyer-Veen said. Officials have estimated that rebuilding Schoharie County will cost about $30 million.
The Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County, which is focused on rebuilding homes, has raised about $350,000 so far and spent around $280,000, according to Robert Carreau, executive director of the Schenectady Foundation, one of the coalition’s key members. Another $100,000 has been donated in the form of labor and materials, he said.
The coalition estimates that there are 47 homes still in need of fixing and that it will take at least another six months to do the work. Carreau said the houses are in different stages of repair and on average each home requires between $8,000 and $10,000 of work. With about $70,000 in the bank, Carreau said the coalition will likely need to raise between $180,000 and $200,000 to complete its rebuilding effort in Schenectady County. One concern, he said, is that warm weather will increase the need for mold remediation.
“We anticipate doing some more outreach to identify donors and going back to some of the people and organizations who already donated funds and letting them know what the need is going to be,” Carreau said. Raising money is a challenge, but “when people are presented with information about what is going on, they are extremely responsive. It’s a matter of organization and getting the message out. This is an unusual situation for this region. We haven’t in recent memory had humanitarian or disaster situations.”
The coalition is planning a community event for April with the goal of inviting people to see what the group has accomplished and what is left to do.
“I think we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Carreau said.
John Poorman, who heads the all-volunteer nonprofit organization Schoharie Recovery, said that the group hasn’t had to focus on fundraising because people have been so generous.
“A lot of groups have made donations or done events,” he said, noting that on Monday the New World Bistro Bar in Albany will donate 10 percent of food sales to Schoharie Recovery. “We’ve received donations large and small. It’s not something that’s happened as a result of a clever and diligent fundraising effort.”
So far, Schoharie Recovery has taken in about $1 million, with about half coming from an anonymous $500,000 gift.
The group has used that money to provide direct financial assistance for building materials to homeowners, business owners and nonprofit organizations; Poorman said 130 such gifts have been made and the average gift is between $2,000 and $3,000. Schoharie Recovery will also provide financial assistance and volunteers to people who are willing to move into the community and rebuild a home.
Schoharie Recovery has had volunteers in more than 300 houses in Schoharie, Esperance, Wright, Middleburgh and other nearby communities. The group is a member of SALT.
Storm Aid has two fundraising events coming up. A Spring Fling featuring a buffet dinner and music will be held Saturday from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Schenectady, and on March 31 the Niskayuna Co-op will host a chocolate fundraiser from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to benefit Storm Aid. Other events in the works include a music festival June 10 at the Altamont Fairgrounds.
Thompson said she has met with the other recovery groups in the area because she wants to complement the work they’re doing and avoid duplication. She said Storm Aid has given money to charitable organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, which is an active member of the Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County, and to individuals in the form of checks or gift certificates made out to specific vendors. So far, “we’ve sent out over $10,000,” Thompson said. The average grant is $500.
Storm Aid also assisted Cindy Lonecke, who lives in Maplecrest, a hamlet of the Greene County town of Windham.
Lonecke, 26, lost the home she shared with her parents and her dog-grooming business to flooding. The family received money to rebuild from local aid groups, but Lonecke was unable to find anyone to help her with the cost of her pet-grooming table, which was designed for the old and disabled dogs that made up the bulk of her business. She applied to Storm Aid for help and was given $770 to cover the cost of the table.
Without the table, “I would have been unable to run my business,” Lonecke said.