In June 2006, the Schuylkill River flooded hundreds of homes in the lowlying regions around Pottstown.Many residents suffered terrible property damage-what the water didn't destroy at once became mildewed in the coming days.
Those affected applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to help repair and rebuild in the months after the flood. Yet, even after the federal money came in, there were still unmet needs, said Rev. Sterling Fritz, pastor at St. John's UCC in Gibraltar.
To help the remaining victims, a group of local churches and community organizations included in the Berks County Long Term Recovery Coalition which is wrapping up work after nearly two years of providing assistance. The coalition celebrated its recovery efforts on Aug. 9, at one of the houses it had helped repair along Old Philadelphia Pike in Douglassville.
"From January 2007 to the present, 17 residences were provided volunteer and material assistance," according to a press release from the coalition. "Projects ranged from removing mold and renovation repairs to securing and installing new furnaces." In the wake of the flood, a number of local churches-including Fritz's St. John's UCC and Rev. Tim Spicer's First Church of the Brethren in Wyomissing-and community groups such as the United Way joined forces to aid victims under the organization of the Berks County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The effort soon grew beyond Fritz's expectations, he said. Financial contributions from the disaster relief arms of Lutheran, Methodist and UCC chapters swelled the coalition's operating budget to $30,000 to $40,000, Fritz said.
The coalition hired case manager Barbara Daigle to assess the needs of those residents who required assistance beyond that provided by the federal government. In addition, the coalition took on a project manager who oversaw construction work, said Speicher.
Most hands-on work, however, came from volunteers, he said. With the coalition's flood effort coming to a close, Speicher said that the group is in a period of transition.
"We're basically inactive at the moment," Speicher said.
However, much of the group's organizational structure will remain in place for future Berks County disasters, he said.
The group may become an official Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster-a Berks-specific relief group that builds resources and trains its volunteers between disasters to ensure maximum effectiveness, Fritz said.
One of the first steps will be establishing a fund for Berks-specific charitable donations, Fritz added.