IOWA DERECHO 2020

Faith-based mission helps derecho victims with a simple act: Clean laundry

Nicole Erwin of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, and Liz Morris of Jackson, Tenn., fold laundry at Eight Days of Hope's traveling la
Nicole Erwin of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, and Liz Morris of Jackson, Tenn., fold laundry at Eight Days of Hope’s traveling laundry trailer parked outside St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in northwest Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. Volunteers with the faith-based disaster response organization have been doing loads of laundry all week for Cedar Rapids residents affected by the Aug. 10 derecho. On Monday, Aug. 31, the mobile unit moved to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in southeast Cedar Rapids, where it will stay through Thursday, Sept. 3. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — When Eight Days of Hope leaders asked their team members for volunteers to staff the laundry trailer last Saturday, Liz Morris was shocked to see her hand go up.

“I was like, ‘That had to be God.’ I didn’t have my hand shoot up,” she said with a laugh.

Same thing happened Monday, where she was tending the eight washers and eight dryers in the mobile unit parked outside St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1340 Third Ave. SE. Before that, the unit was at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on the city’s northwest side.

The facility will be available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Thursday, for people to drop off their laundry. Volunteers will take care of the washing, drying and folding. Everything is free of charge, including the detergent and dryer sheets.

Eight Days of Hope volunteers from 20 states arrived in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 15 and will be here through Saturday, working on trees, yards and houses, all free of charge. They expect to have helped 60 households by then.

It’s slow-going because of the size of the trees and the fact that they have just two lifts, said event leader Dan Garrick, 59, of Buffalo, N.Y. And with 30 to 40 households still on a wait-list, they’re no longer taking work requests. Anyone remaining on the wait-list will be passed along to other response groups, like Samaritan’s Purse, Garrick said.

His team’s responders, ages 18 and up, stay as long as their schedules allow. Some already have left town, and after Saturday, the rest will either return home or go down to Lake Charles, La., to help Hurricane Laura victims.

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The faith-based, nondenominational organization based in Tupelo, Miss., has Rapid Response teams on the ground in both locations. In Cedar Rapids, the focus has been on taking down, cutting up and moving tree debris; tamping roofs; cleaning yards; removing drywall; and doing laundry. Flood mitigation will be added to the list in Louisiana, much like the work Eight Days of Hope did in Cedar Rapids following the 2008 flood.

With the derecho response, 350 people will cycle in and out of working in Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Springville and Palo. Local volunteers have joined in the effort, as well. In the age of COVID-19, extra safety precautions are taken, and no volunteers have contracted the disease to date, Garrick said.

Whenever tornadoes, hurricanes and floods strike, a Rapid Response team assembles quickly and hits the road, staying much longer than the typical eight days in some of the organization’s other relief missions.

The Cedar Rapids entourage includes five pickups, trailers, skid loaders, 50-foot and 35-foot lifts, a trailer equipped with chain saws and tools, food support trailer, and the laundry trailer. They have shower and kitchen trailers, but didn’t need to bring them, since the host site, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Marion, has those facilities.

Each out-of-town volunteer brings toiletries, clothing and bedding — from cots, air mattresses and sleeping bags for the floor, to tents, RVs and travel trailers. Others may elect to go to a hotel. Eight Days feeds its volunteers, using the church’s kitchen. They’re fed so well that Garrick jokingly called it “Eight Pounds of Hope.”

Garrick was one of the 2008 flood response volunteers who came to Cedar Rapids. He ended up staying four years, taking a job as a full-time construction manager with the Linn Area Long Term Recovery Coalition. He’s been with Eight Days of Hope full-time for a little over three years. As Event Leader, he coordinates volunteers, oversees the leadership team and takes care of the day-to-day operations during a response event.

Even though the volunteers are leaving soon, the organization’s presence will continue. Cedar Rapids has been named the Midwest Satellite, and will have a full-time director, and a warehouse on the southwest side for storing disaster response equipment. It also will feature a distribution ministry, where local churches can pick up donated building supplies, furniture and miscellaneous items for people in need. The facility will be dedicated Oct. 17.

Eight Days of Hope also has disaster rebuilding programs, safe houses for human trafficking victims, the distribution ministry and a COVID-19 response that includes a feeding initiative for those who can’t leave their homes, as well as free masks, hand sanitizer and free testing.

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The organization is financed entirely through donations, corporate- and church sponsorships, to cover overhead.

“But every dime that somebody gives to Cedar Rapids, stays in Cedar Rapids,” Garrick said. “It doesn’t get spent anywhere else. It doesn’t get spent for salaries. It doesn’t get spent for equipment unless the money is designated for equipment in Cedar Rapids. So every event we go on, that money stays in that location forever.”

Morris got involved with Eight Days of Hope during the Nashville tornado response in March. The Cedar Rapids effort was her second outing with the program and her first time in Iowa. She has two jobs and a 15-year-old back home, but “God was telling me that I needed to go help,” she said.

“Seeing the devastation hurt my heart, but it made me feel good, too, about being here, and seeing other people coming together in the community to help,” she said. “ ... I see a little more light shining in people’s eyes.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

How to get help

• What: Eight Days of Hope laundry trailer

• Where: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1340 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

• When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Thursday (9/3)

• Cost: Free, including detergent and dryer sheets

• How it works: Drop off laundry at the trailer; volunteers will wash, dry and fold it

• Details: eightdaysofhope.com

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