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Strangers helping strangers after the storm

After the Aug. 10 derecho, Emily Stochl of Cedar Rapids purchased items and drove to hard-hit areas of town to donate to
After the Aug. 10 derecho, Emily Stochl of Cedar Rapids purchased items and drove to hard-hit areas of town to donate to those most in need. Submitted photo
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During the Aug. 10 derecho, Emily Stochl was hunkered down in her southwest Cedar Rapids basement with her cat and dog. In the middle of the storm, she could hear windows breaking and doors slamming in her 100-year-old house.

“I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life, but I’ve never experienced a tornado. I thought that’s what we were being hit with,” she said.

Her husband, Curtis Stochl, an avid cyclist, had gone out for a long bike ride before the storm. Thankfully, Stochl soon learned her husband had taken cover at a stranger’s house and was safe.

Because of the pandemic, her husband had offered to hunker down out in the stranger’s garage, but the homeowner insisted he come inside so he’d be safer. To Emily Stochl, that act of kindness felt like the beginning, in a way, of weeks of strangers helping strangers in the community. She decided right away that she wanted to do something to help, too.

Almost immediately after sweeping up the broken glass in her home, which was damaged but in one piece, she took on the daunting task of getting supplies to storm victims. Through her podcast, Pre-Loved, about vintage and sustainable fashion, and her freelance writing (her essay about the derecho appeared on HuffPost), Stochl has a platform that she was able to use to ask for donations. After posting on Facebook, she received donations from local people as well as strangers from across the country.

She partnered up with a friend, Becky Robinson of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and together they used the funds to fill the back of Stochl’s Subaru with essentials. Then they drove directly to some of the hardest-hit areas in Cedar Rapids.

The scenes they encountered were heartbreaking.

“We realized that some people had nothing. In some cases, no one had been by yet, even three days after the storm,” Stochl said. She felt, at times, overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. “I realized there are lots of pockets of people in our community who were already in a tough spot, and the storm pulled the rug out from under them,” Stochl said.

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As the week progressed, she teamed up with other grassroots volunteers and organizations like Matthew 25 to coordinate their efforts. Most of their communication came through social media, especially because needs changed so fast.

“Within two or three hours, the information about who needed what would be out of date,” Stochl said.

As she continued posting on social media, the number of donations Stochl received increased. She adapted by ordering pallets of supplies from grocery stores so she wouldn’t risk emptying shelves. Once the supplies exceeded how much she could fit in her car, she found delivery drivers — often friends of friends on social media — to get the supplies where they needed to go.

Some people started reaching out after seeing Stochl’s posts, saying they felt bad that all they could do was offer a monetary donation. Stochl was quick to reassure them. “There is a role for everyone. Maybe you don’t have time to run around and buy groceries, but you’re able to donate. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if they didn’t,” she said.

Even though the initial need has died down, and she’s no longer making supply runs, Stochl plans to keep volunteering. She was already an active volunteer with Sunrise Movement in Cedar Rapids, and she wants to do more.

“It made me feel less defeated to help and see others helping, but it also made me motivated to think about the ways we need to better organize our society,” she said.

She hopes others — especially people who connected with nonprofit organizations after the storm — do the same.

“If you found organizations you liked, keep engaged in those groups. Stay plugged into the needs in the community,” she said.

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