Volunteers in Fremont Create Robust Relief Effort

by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News

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March 28, 2019, 6:45 a.m.

Recovery efforts continue in eastern Nebraska as flood waters recede. In Fremont, efforts are robust, including a donation center, shelter, and volunteer resource center.

Shawn Shanahan is the executive director for the United Way in Fremont, Nebraska.

“So right now you are at our community volunteer resource center and it’s an opportunity for people in our community to come back and give of their time and talents and an opportunity for us to collect volunteer hours to go towards our federal grants and federal fund reimbursement,” Shanahan said.

FEMA can cover a certain percentage of rebuilding, but in return, the state and local communities have to cover the rest. Volunteer hours can have a monetary value in offsetting the cost for local communities during disaster recovery. In the Fremont area, the impact could be big.

“I think that our community, the effort will be between volunteer hours and the in-kind donations to be able to offset that grant requirement. So I have faith that we’re gonna be able to make that happen, and I think our community will be a joint effort to make that happen,” Shanahan said.

The joint effort also involves many organizations. In addition to the United Way, Fremont has volunteers from Americorps and the Red Cross.

Volunteers organize relief efforts in Fremont. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News)

“Having multiple different set-ups across town is allowing families to go to one location to volunteer, one location to give in-kind items, and then an opportunity to go to a location to give monetary items, and then an opportunity that opens on Friday which is gonna be called the MARC, which is gonna be a multiple agency resource center that opens on Friday,” Shanahan said.

Shayla Linn is the community impact coordinator for the Fremont Area United Way. She’s leading the MARC.

“This is gonna be a one-stop-shop for anybody affected by the flood. We’re gonna have FEMA there, Red Cross will be present. DHHS will be there to sign up for disaster SNAP, and then we will also have other local agencies present including, like, social security, so if they lost their card they can do the replacement there, and we will also have some therapists on hand, and food will also be provided,” Linn said.

The MARC will be open for one week starting this Friday. It will be one opportunity for people to sign up for FEMA assistance. That opportunity is also available at the Red Cross shelter in Fremont.

Chris Ciccotelli manages the shelter. He says the current shelter is the product of moving into a long-term plan. It opened Friday in what used to be a J.C. Penney.

Volunteers prepare meals for flood victims in Fremont. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News)

“We had three shelters in Fremont and we realized it was gonna be kind of a long-term operation. Those shelters, there was two in a church and one in a middle school, and they needed to get back to their normal way of life, get their buildings back, so we started looking for a bigger place where we could house everybody, and we found this, the mall’s been gracious enough to help us out,” Ciccotelli said.

Moving to one shelter was possible because the number of people needing a place to stay has gone down as the flood waters recede and some people are able to return to their homes. Ciccotelli says the numbers have been going down since he arrived last Tuesday.

“I think the total number was around six hundred, so that’s what we were starting off with, and right from the start from Tuesday night, it was starting to dwindle down, you know, as soon as the water started, people were going back, going back. We were prepared for three to four hundred when we opened this shelter, and we only ended up with, I think, a hundred and sixty-seven on the first night so we’ve been, it’s great to see less people coming back,” Ciccotelli said.

That nighttime population is down to a little over a hundred. That means people’s needs are changing. In some cases, they’ll be met by a donation center and warehouse in Fremont.

Steve Narans is a volunteer with the United Way and is helping to manage the donation center and warehouse. Narans says the donation center came about after shelters were established for people who lost their homes, and volunteers moved on to trying to help people who might be staying with family members.

“They needed things. They needed toilet paper, paper towels, clothes, buckets, shovels, cleaning materials, food, snacks, bedding, blankets, whatever they needed, and so we set up the distribution center in our city auditorium here in Fremont,” Narans said.

Narans says the amount of donations has surpassed what volunteers at the auditorium can handle. They set up a warehouse, space which usually belongs to Structural Component Systems. They are donating the space for relief efforts. The warehouse can now supply the auditorium, the Red Cross shelter, and other organizations throughout the area.

“We want to make sure we can supply all of the normal agencies that people go to for help, for food and clothes and things like that. If we can fill their shelves, it’s gonna be better for our community long-term. But we just don’t know. It could be two months, it could be six months,” Narans said.

That’s the timeline for the warehouse. Narans expects the donation center will close sooner than that. The warehouse is able to handle larger, long-term needs as people clean up and rebuild their homes.

“We’re now just taking furniture and mattresses, which is all new furniture and all new mattresses. We’re not gonna give out used mattresses and things like that to people,” Narans said.

He says he’s grateful for all the outside help, but volunteer efforts in Fremont also demonstrate local strength.

“It is a beautiful example of people taking care of people. It is perfect… We were an island for four days and we did everything on our own for four days,” Narans said.