The year of 2020 has been difficult. Linn County still is recovering from two concurrent disasters. The global pandemic continues to impact every part of our lives but has created tremendous hardships and challenges for vulnerable populations. The Aug. 10 derecho was the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. history, and it certainly made its mark on Eastern Iowa. Some 60 percent of the tree canopy was lost, and the damage estimates are so high that it is hard to wrap your head around the impact.
In the days following the storm, neighbors and friends rushed to help each other. Local organizations redoubled efforts to ensure everyone had food, water and adequate shelter, but the challenge was exacerbated by the still-looming pandemic.
The derecho left an incredible wake of destruction, but it also exposed the true resilience and generosity that has come to define our community. Everyone who could, helped. Thousands of people, facing economic challenges from the pandemic and new costs from the storm, still found ways to support the many organizations that keep our community thriving.
Still, ten months since the pandemic reached Eastern Iowa and more than four months after the storm, the needs are great.
We know from previous experience that recovery from disasters of such magnitude is a long and expensive process. While we have made great progress in addressing the most immediate concerns of the community, full recovery will require long-term strategies and sustained effort.
There are several ways one can still help. Gifts to the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation or United Way of East Central Iowa will support nonprofits working to meet a wide range of needs. Or support a local nonprofit directly by making a gift toward their specific needs or volunteering through their organization. For safe volunteer opportunities, visit www.uweci.org/volunteernow.
Together, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and United Way of East Central Iowa have granted more than $1,356,000 into the community for recovery efforts. This includes $574,250 to support the new Providing Assistance to Community Homeowners (PATCH) Program, which aims to make damaged homes habitable for the winter months until more permanent repairs can take place.
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PATCH brings together many local organizations and people, all working to help our community, and therein lies the key to successful recovery: collaboration and selflessness. The scale of this year’s challenges requires us to think about new ways we can work together to solve problems and meet needs. No one organization or person will see us through. Only by putting our community first will we be able to return it to the healthy, strong, and welcoming place we know it can be.
Despite the generosity that has been so prevalent here this year, our community needs more. Homes and businesses are still damaged; lives are still upended. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy notes that wind-related disasters tend to be among the most traumatic, and a short drive through Linn County reveals why. Not a corner of our community went untouched.
In the months ahead, our nonprofit sector, already taxed by the pandemic, will need community support. Health and human service organizations will continue to address increasing mental health concerns, food insecurities and housing needs. Arts and cultural organizations need our support as shows are on hold and museum attendance is low. And environmental organizations will be working to replenish trees and properties. These are the same organizations that saw fundraisers canceled throughout spring and summer while simultaneously trying to re-imagine their core work.
The future of our community, however, is not grim. As we rose up from the devastation of 2008, so we will again recover. If we are mindful of the needs our neighbors still face, and if we remain as generous as we have been in the past, we will see our community through this challenge, together.
Les Garner is president and CEO of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. Kristin Roberts is president and CEO of the United Way of East Central Iowa.