CEDAR RAPIDS — During the derecho that pummeled Cedar Rapids, the hurricane-force winds ripped siding and gutters off Holly Hartkemeyer’s house in northwest Cedar Rapids.
The storm also tore away her air conditioning unit and — most alarming of all — pushed her house about an inch off it’s foundation, leading to cracks appearing in the floor and making it hard for her windows and doors to shut properly. She found a general contractor to take on the repairs, but they won’t be able to get to the work on her house until spring. Meanwhile, water was pouring in through the cracks when it rained, and she could hear birds nesting in the walls where the siding was gone.
“Being a single mom of three, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said. “I felt this sense of impending doom.”
Then she heard about the Patch Program, a new initiative rolled out between several Linn County nonprofits. Matthew 25 is one of them, coordinating teams of volunteers who are helping homeowners like Hartkemeyer batten down the hatches before winter. On a recent Saturday, a group showed up to put up new downspouts and gutters, new skirting for her front porch and put a temporary patch on her siding. She will still need more work done in the spring, but she feels more prepared for winter.
“They were literal superheroes,” Hartkemeyer said. “It was just, like, a literal miracle. It was a beacon of light.”
The Patch Program is a collaboration between Matthew 25, Waypoint, HACAP, Habitat for Humanity, the Neighborhood Finance Corp., the housing fund for Linn County and the county and city governments. Matthew 25 Executive Director Clint Twedt-Ball said it grew out of meetings of LAP-AID, a consortium of about 50 area nonprofits formed after the 2008 floods that has been meeting regularly since the derecho.
“It become clear there needed to be some group that would step up and start to provide long-term aid to homeowners in need,” he said.
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In the spring, they hope to take on more substantive projects and also to roll out a loan program for homeowners to pay for repairs. For now, with winter imminent, they’re trying to help get people squared away for the cold weather with faster repairs and, true to the program’s name, patches. Those could include covering holes in roofs and walls and where windows have shattered and fixing skirting on mobile homes so pipes don’t freeze in the winter.
“We’re in a race against the elements right now ... We’re trying to mobilize skilled volunteers and contractors who can help us do emergency repairs for people suffering from derecho damage. Right now the priority is helping people make their homes ready for winter,” said Jana Bodensteiner, Matthew 25 director of development and communications. “We need folks who can get on roofs, who have some experience with patching and tarping. The need is so urgent we don’t necessarily have time to train folks, we need people who can hit the ground running.”
They’re also developing a project list for work to be done in the spring. The nonprofit got funding to hire a volunteer coordinator and a housing rehab coordinator, along with initial funding for supplies.
Waypoint is handling applications from homeowners who need assistance, which is open to people who fall at 80 percent of the area median income or below, which is $68,150 for a family of four. Twedt-Ball said they are actively looking for more people who need the assistance.
This work is, in many ways, an extension of Matthew 25’s previous work, which has included the Block by Block program restoring homes in neighborhoods hit by the flood of 2008, and its Transform Week, which this year included derecho repairs.
“We sent teams out after the derecho that went through neighborhoods, knocking on doors and talking to people about their needs. All those experiences kind of pushed us forward on this,” Twedt-Ball said. “We’ve been doing repair assistance since the flood of 2008, so this is scaling up those efforts.”
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