How flood volunteers can help Cedar Rapids now

Create volunteer profile to be notified of opportunities

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Sandbagging has stopped but that doesn’t mean volunteers no longer are needed.

Once the Cedar River recedes, which was projected to start slowly in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday and accelerate through the week, helpers will be back in demand for the heavy lifting of moving families back into evacuated homes and tearing down walls of sandbags.

Not all the recovery-related volunteer jobs will involve physical labor, according to the United Way of East Central Iowa. But specifics on Tuesday were being ironed out as the river was forecast to stay near its crest at nearly 22 feet until Wednesday.

“At this point we’re in a holding pattern,” United Way spokeswoman Shannon Hanson said. “We haven’t gotten anyone who has asked for volunteers yet. Until everything starts to recede, I’m not sure what else there is to do but wait.”

Sandbagging stations are no longer operating. And part of the pause is related to the overwhelming response to the sandbagging call in recent days. More than 540 people created a “disaster volunteer profile” on the United Way website -- the vast majority did so in connection with the flooding, according to Hanson.

Hundreds more joined those registered volunteers in the Cedar Rapids streets, lining up behind trucks to fill, tie, and stack sandbags.

As recovery-related volunteer opportunities begin to emerge, they’ll again be posted on the United Way website. One popped up Tuesday afternoon seeking flood response volunteers to move items and inventory back into the ReStore, Habitat for Humanity office, and construction warehouse. Volunteers also are needed to help Habitat for Humanity homeowners who were evacuated move back home, according to the online appeal.

Interested helpers still are asked to create volunteer profiles at as they identify skills, talents, and resources available “to assist with the community recovery.”

Much of the upcoming volunteer jobs will depend on how much water seeps over the river banks. Some residents might need help cleaning their property. And wet sandbags are handled differently than dry sandbags. It all has to move eventually, but Hanson suggested the city hold a relevant celebration if mostly dry sand remains.

“I think we should just do a beach party downtown,” she said. “We can make sand castles and get out our chairs and have a party downtown. Why not?”

The American Red Cross Serving Greater Iowa also tapped volunteer services and donations in its flood preparation and evacuation management. But Kara Kelley, spokeswoman for the regional office, said her organization right now is “doing well with the volunteers that we have trained through the Red Cross.”

The Red Cross is continuing to operate two emergency shelters at Cedar Hills Community Church, 6455 E. Ave. NW, and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1340 3rd Ave. SE, and Kelly said the organization will keep them open until evacuation orders are lifted and residents can return to homes that have running water and electricity.

“So we don’t have a timeline on when they will close,” Kelly said.

Overnight Monday, the two Cedar Rapids shelters housed a combined 120 people. Those using the shelter are asked to bring prescription and emergency medication, food for special dietary needs, identification to prove they live in an affected area, extra clothes, bedding, hygiene supplies, and phone charges – among other things.

Kelly on Tuesday told The Gazette the Red Cross doesn’t need food or water donations at the shelters.

“At this point we’re asking people to hold off on brining things,” she said. “We are working with all our area nonprofits to come up with a plan on how to manage and collect those donations because we don’t want things to go to waste.”

Anyone interested in donating to the Red Cross right now should make a financial gift, Kelly said.

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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