IOWA DERECHO 2020

'Couldn't do this without nonprofits,' Sen. Joni Ernst says while delivering hot meals, post-derecho storm, with a 'hello'

Ida and John Kotouc speak with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, who delivered hot Meals on Wheels meals to them at Linwood Apartmen
Ida and John Kotouc speak with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, who delivered hot Meals on Wheels meals to them at Linwood Apartments in northwest Cedar Rapids Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The coronavirus pandemic forced the Horizons A Family Service Alliance to switch from delivering hot meals to frozen meals to about 700 people in Cedar Rapids.

But when a derecho storm on Aug. 10 knocked out power, and the ability to cook their meals, the family services agency had to return to delivering already-cooked meals.

It wasn’t easy, said Horizons CEO Mike Barnhart, because his chief cook and kitchen manager had to respond to damage at their homes.

In addition, deliveries were made difficult by tree debris. It took four hours to complete one delivery route, Horizons staff said.

However, it was important to make those deliveries, Barnhart said, because in addition to food, Horizons needed to check on clients’ safety and to make sure they had essentials such as medicines, and in some cases, just to say “hello.”

“The socialization is very important — and the food, too,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said Wednesday afternoon as she helped Horizons deliver Meals on Wheels to residents of Linwood Apartments in northwest Cedar Rapids.

At each apartment, elderly residents who had been without electricity for more than a week were eager to chat about their experiences living without air-conditioning, refrigeration and their elevator.

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Joining the Horizons Meals on Wheels delivery team was a way to highlight the importance of Horizons and “all of the other nonprofits and churches and individual community members who are taking time to check in on their neighbors,” Ernst said.

“Folks like Horizons and what they’ve been able to do through the pandemic and for this crisis, we couldn’t do this without our nonprofits,” Ernst said.

Ernst, who served more than two decades in the Iowa National Guard, applied a military axiom — “Mission first, people always.”

“So to know that our citizens are getting through this, and while it may not be a comfortable time right now, we have to know, ‘Are you safe? Are you getting the meals you need? Is your electric back on? Can we keep you comfortable in any other way? Are you getting the medications you need?’”

While there are many issues to work through, she said, “It was really good for me to hear from so many people they are OK, they’re safe and they’re going to make it through.”

Although recovery will not be quick, Ernst was impressed by how much progress had been made across the city since she visited Cedar Rapids this past Friday.

The derecho “has touched every inch of this community,” she said, and not all of the damage is yet visible. It’s likely more structural damage to homes and other buildings will be discovered as the recovery continues.

She also will not be surprised if the estimate of $4 billion damage grows in the coming weeks.

That’s the number Gov. Kim Reynolds sought in her major disaster declaration application that was approved by President Donald Trump.

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“A lot of that (damage) will become more apparent as time moves on, so it is quite possible that number keeps climbing,” Ernst said.

Already the extent of crop damage is becoming more visible as corn and soybean plants snapped off by the hurricane-force winds die.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday said the declaration approved only a portion of Reynolds’s request — about $45 million for debris removal and repair to government utilities and buildings.

But Ernst is “very confident” that the $83 million in individual assistance Reynolds asked for in her application will be approved by the president. It is currently under review, according to FEMA.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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