Time is Running Out – Only Two Weeks Left to Register for Disaster Aid

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Survivors of the storms and flooding that ravaged central and eastern Pennsylvania have only two weeks left to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for disaster assistance. The deadline to register is November 14, 2011.

Individuals who live, work, or own a business in the 29 Pennsylvania counties designated under the disaster declarations for Hurricane Irene and Tropical Strom Lee are eligible. The counties are Adams, Berks, Bradford, Bucks, Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming, and York.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and FEMA urge those who sustained disaster-related losses to register by the deadline, even if they are unsure of their eligibility.

November 14 is also the deadline to apply for a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan. For information about SBA loan applications, visit www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance or call the SBA Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955. Those with speech or hearing difficulties may dial 1-800-877-8339. Loan application forms can also be downloaded from www.sba.gov.

There are four ways to register with FEMA:

  1. Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Operators assist callers seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Help is available in most languages. If you have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY, call 1-800-462-7585.
  2. Register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
  3. Register using a tablet or smartphone by visiting m.fema.gov.
  4. If you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362.

If you have a disability and need help registering, please contact FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 and ask for assistance.

Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status.  If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 1-800-462-7585.

Article Courtesy of FEMA


Run to Rebuild 5K to Benefit Flood Victims

When Ginny Larson and Brooke Wilson met as graduate students in the Student Affairs program at Bloomsburg University, they had very little idea that they would eventually work together to become disaster recovery organizers.  Larson, a Bloomsburg native, 2004 graduate of Central Columbia High School, and 2008 graduate of Bloomsburg University, was drawn back to town for her masters degree for this simple reason:  “I love the area.”  Wilson, a native of Rockport, Massacusetts, discovered Bloomsburg when she decided to pursue her masters and received a graduate assistantship in the Sports Information office at BU.

Both, however, were incredibly affected by the flooding and destruction they witnessed following Tropical Storm Lee.  Larson, who has called the area home since she was 8 years old, said,  “I was devastated. I know we have had  flooding problems in the past but once I was able to drive downtown and see the destruction, I cried so much I could barely even drive. [This town is] a part of me and who I am. Seeing it demolished was heartbreaking, and I was one of the lucky ones not harmed.”  Wilson compared what she saw in Bloomsburg to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

When the two returned to campus after the flood closure, they instantly knew they had to help.  Wilson said, “I knew I needed to plan something that would be a big event to help those in need even if it would be months later. Many people seem to forget that families and people had lost so much and that they still are in need of help, although the damage my not be seen it is still there.” Several of their peers in the Counseling and Student Affairs program were affected and forced to relocate, which made the destruction all the more personal.  According to Larson, “Although many of us will never forget what happened, we wanted to do something that showed we hadn’t forgotten, symbolize community support, yet was uplifting and fun. That is how the Run to Rebuild 5k walk/run was born.”

After working with their program advisor, Mark Bauman, and Jean Downing, the Director of the SOLVE office, the idea began to take off.  Larson and Wilson are working with the Bloomsburg University’s Student Veterans Assocation to hold the event, and have received extensive support from the Bloomsburg YMCA, the SOLVE office, and multiple fraternities and sororities.  All proceeds will be donated to the Columbia County Volunteer Organization for Disaster Relief. “The event was organized in such a small amount of time, but we hope to have a great turn out to show the community we are here for them,” said Larson.

The Run to Rebuild 5K will be held Saturday, November 12 from 8:00am – 11:00am.  The race will begin at 8 AM and runners and walkers are welcome. Registration will be held from 6:30-7:45 AM at the Bloomsburg YMCA.  The cost is $5 for students, $10 for pre-registration ($15 on day of the race), and $50 for a group of 10 OR MORE.  The entry form and more details can be found here.

According to Larson, it should be a full day of community events, “Following the race, the Veteran’s Day parade is being held in downtown Bloomsburg. In addition, at 1:00 pm Bloomsburg University’s last home football game against Lock Haven will be taking place. If you bring your race bib, you will even get half off your football ticket!”

For more information or to join their community, go to Run to Rebuild 5K on Facebook.

Update: Due to the response from the community, we are kicking off The Bloomsburg Daily Charity Challenge.

Can We Afford to Play Politics with Disaster Relief?

My heart goes out to my neighbors and friends in Fernville and the rest of the area that were hit hardest by this disaster.  I have witnessed an amazing response by so many individuals and organizations.  I’m proud to be a member of a community that is willing to help others in tough times.  It’s these values and principals that bind a community like ours together.I was amazed to see the initial clean up effort that occurred in Fernville soon after the flood — people and machinery working to clear debris, the American Red Cross offering food and water, meals being served in a food pavilion set up in the park, door-to-door delivery of cleaning supplies, and neighbors helping neighbors.  All of it was truly inspiring.  But now that destroyed homes are officially off-limits and owners are not allowed to enter them, a “wait and see” attitude has set in.  It is a shame to see the homes along Drinker Street in Fernville sit derelict.

As I have been contemplating the possible scenarios regarding destroyed homes, I started to think about the subject in relation to national politics.  And what I came up with is that I don’t know how people will be able to afford the demolition of their destroyed homes and other associated costs without assistance.  My assumption is that most people in flooded areas are going to struggle to afford it.  And specifically, I’m concerned about exactly who is going to pay for demolishing the property and making the land clean and safe again.

With budgets being cut on the federal and state levels, I fear that our local government is eventually going to be forced to pick up the tab.  It was just a few weeks ago that Congress (at the last second) appropriated funds to keep FEMA afloat.  Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) has argued that equal cuts need to be made elsewhere before allocating more funds to programs like FEMA.  Fortunately, for our local flood victims collecting FEMA monies, the argument failed to persuade lawmakers.  A legislative gridlock on this issue could have had a very close-up and personal effect on our community.

But if the political trend continues to slash mandatory spending in our federal programs such as aid to flood victims, then we may be faced with shifting this burden to state and local government. Earlier this year, many Republicans wanted to slash next year’s FEMA budget by 55%.  We may need to find revenue elsewhere, or be forced to raise local taxes, to aid in current and future recovery efforts if the responsibility is left to local government.

Just look at how much Bloomsburg spent on the curb side removal of trash.  Estimates put the figure at several hundred thousand dollars. The numbers add up quickly and it is an overwhelming burden to put on a small community like ours.

This is the reason we have federal and state assistance.  I strongly believe the federal and state emergency funding systems need to stay in place. Keep in mind, if we don’t have FEMA or PEMA, there won’t be any “buy outs.”

That being said, not all of the money needed is coming from the government.  Donations have been pouring in from all over.  First Columbia Bank donated $100,000 to flood relief.  Many more business have also contributed.  Individuals like former resident Gary Hock have contributed.  Gary donated $100,000 of his own money to the relief effort.

But is it smart or responsible to rely on the generosity of individuals to get us out of this mess?  I have profound appreciation and admiration for those contributing their time and money to the relief effort.   But can we expect these individuals and businesses to donate money to the next disaster?  My hope is that our community, with help from our state and federal governments, will be able to help those with destroyed homes sooner rather than later.

Have an opinion on a local subject?  Email us your opinion pieces and let the conversation begin.

An Interview with Bloomsburg University President David Soltz

Many of us have the impression that given a week off from school due to a natural disaster, the typical college student would go home to see family or take a road trip to visit friends.  The scenario we envision would probably not include staying in a flood-ravaged town without running water and scooping sewage-laced river mud out of a home twelve blocks away from the student’s apartment.  However, in the aftermath of the 2011 flood, Bloomsburg University students gave tremendously to the relief effort. In addition, the entire university community — faculty, staff, students, and administrators — came together and assisted in nearly every aspect of the relief.

We wanted to find out the exact details of the university involvement, so we went straight to the top.  Dr. David Soltz, the President of Bloomsburg University, recently took time from his busy schedule to answer questions related to the university’s role in the flood relief for Bloomsburg.  He also provided us with a detailed list of the facts and numbers associated with the university’s assistance to the effort.

Not only did the university community stick around to help, but they did so in a way that demonstrates a great deal of concern for the town they all call home — whether for four years or a lifetime.

Was there any official call from groups like The Red Cross or AGAPE, or did the Bloomsburg University community just respond to the flood relief spontaneously?

Initially the university responded spontaneously. As an official call was made, we responded directly to those needs, such as providing gloves for cleaning, food to AGAPE and porta-potties. Our efforts were coordinated with AGAPE. We sent buses to AGAPE to transport volunteers to locations where assistance was needed.

Are there housing issues that have arisen because of students whose residences were affected by flooding?

Fortunately, we were able to identify the potential number of students impacted early on and provide alternative housing options on campus or locally. Our Community Government Association (CGA) reached out to students, notifying them of CGA’s ability to assist them with replacing personal items and property lost, as well.

On a personal note, the tremendous involvement by the university community must make you proud.  Do you have any comments related to that?

I am very proud of the BU community. Their efforts made a great difference and exemplified our core values of community, collaboration, respect and integrity. We proudly served our close-knit community as a resource and with action.

Town and Gown relations can be difficult for any community or university.  Do you think the significant involvement in flood relief efforts will create new or ongoing opportunities for town and gown engagement?

Yes. Our involvement with the town recovery efforts has favorably changed the perception of BU faculty, staff and students for many town residents. They see us as a resource and neighbor. We’d like to continue to build upon that sense of community.

There seemed to be a heavy involvement from sports teams.  Which teams participated and who organized their efforts?

All sports teams were involved. The effort was organized by the Athletic Director Mike McFarland.

Do you have stories of faculty, staff, and students who were personally affected by the flooding?

44 faculty and staff were impacted. 120 students resided in the affected areas and an estimated 13 experienced significant loss.

Are there ongoing or future plans for flood relief assistance that will involve the university?

We are working with Bloomsburg School District to provide alternative venues for their athletic activities.  Acacia (a student greek organization) volunteered to help restore the local ball fields at Town Park.  We continue to provide assistance through a coordinated effort between BU’s SOLVE office and AGAPE.  And we currently are in discussion with town officials regarding other needs we may be able to help meet.

How can we better share these positive stories of town and gown engagement?

Communicate the outstanding academic accomplishments, community initiatives and programs that are taking place on BU’s campus. Many of our programs are open to the public and serve BU’s surrounding community, including the Celebrity Artist Series, reading and math programs, athletic camps, the Hearing and Speech Clinic, teaching and tutoring partnerships with the local school districts, and events sponsored by our living and learning communities that integrate the academic curriculum, leadership opportunities and civic engagement. Additionally, we need to communicate the impact of our students and faculty in their respective academic disciplines and local communities.

Bloomsburg University’s Involvement in Flood Recovery:  The Facts and Numbers

Approximately how many students helped in the flood recovery effort in Bloomsburg?  How many Faculty/Staff?

  • More than 350 students volunteered.
  • About 100 Greek students assisted in local homes and organized various aid drives in their hometowns. 95 percent of all fraternities and sororities participated in the cleanup in some way. All have plans to continue with their service projects.
  • Bloomsburg University provided 168 hours of support to the county through clerical staffing of the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Phone Bank and other assistance to the Emergency Operations Center. 16 staff participated in this effort over the four-day period.
  • BU Athletic Department staff and athletic teams logged a total of 2,542 hours of volunteer time. Teams participating include: women’s basketball, wrestling, men’s soccer, cross country, men’s and women’s tennis, baseball, women’s soccer, men’s basketball, lacrosse, softball, football, field hockey and swimming.
  • University Police logged 83.25 hours in support of the town police.
  • Facilities Management logged 1,853 hours in support of the cleanup efforts in the town and the county.
What types of things did they work on?
  • BU buses and operators transported displaced residents to the Berwick emergency shelter.
  • 10 pieces of heavy equipment and operators assisted in cleanup efforts.
  • Student-athletes and other students assisted with cleanup efforts. For example:
– Kappa Sigma fraternity helped the cleanup in town.
– Nancy Gentile Ford, professor of history, volunteered with the local Red Cross from the first warning of the flood. Michelle Kurtz, a BU senior, was active with the Red Cross and posted many messages on Facebook leading others to the Red Cross.
– Chi Theta Pi sorority organized efforts to help clean local houses and worked at the shelter in Berwick.
– Delta Epsilon Beta sorority assisted with cleanup at the Barn at Boone’s Dam, helping owner and BU alumna Ruth Kranig ’94, who provided free meals for volunteers and those affected by flooding.
– BU student-athletes volunteered before and after their practices and competitions.
– BU field hockey and soccer teams ripped out a ruined floor on West Third Street.
– BU wrestling team demolished a ruined wall on West Third Street and emptied buckets of sludge from homes on Leonard Street.
  • Annie’s Place animal shelter on BU’s upper campus housed as many as 20 dogs and five cats.
  • We communicated all town information, including road closings and press releases, to the BU community (many of whom are town residents, PPL and United Water customers) via emails, texts, Web, radio and TV announcements.
  • Volunteers removed mud, dry wall and soiled belongings from homes.
  • Volunteers either helped homeowners clean and save them, or put them curbside for removal.
  • BU loaded a pickup truck with soft drink and Rita’s water ice and distributed the refreshments every afternoon to flood victims and their families for a break.
  • Volunteers washed loads of laundry.
  • BU purchased mops, buckets, latex gloves, work gloves, water, cleaning supplies, bleach, food and other supplies for donation.
  • Volunteers sorted and folded clothing at local churches for distribution and worked at the Wesley United Methodist Church/Caldwell Consistory serving food to flood victims.

What other types of flood assistance did the university provide to the town?

  • Supplied and placed 50 porta-potties in the Town of Bloomsburg
  • Bused student volunteers for house cleaning; provided transportation to and from the flood area for other volunteers
  • Collected and delivered cleaning supplies
  • Helped pump water out of homes with the fire department
  • Helped deliver drinking water, which was stored and distributed from BU’s upper campus
  • Provided large equipment, such as bulldozers to help with the cleanup
  • Housed the National Guard at Monty’s on BU’s upper campus

Flood Relief Bake Sale on Friday, October 7th

Bloomsburg University’s Flood Buddies will hold a bake sale Friday, Oct. 7, during the Bloomsburg High School homecoming game at Redman Stadium. The bake sale will begin at 6:30 p.m. and all proceeds will benefit more than 60 Bloomsburg Area School District families displaced by the recent flooding. Flood Buddies, a group of senior-level public relations students at BU, also will accept donations for flood relief during the football game.

BU students involved in Flood Buddies include Jessica Ames, Kimberly Cox, Hillary Gorgone, Bethany Homiak, Deanna Kellett, Brittany Kelly, Samantha McFarland, Samie Richart, Brooke Samsel, Brittany Scharr, Jennifer Sensky, Julie Sterner, Natalie Wagner, Amanda Whitford and Erika Zaborny.

Event information courtesy of Bloomsburg University

Photo courtesy of Cuizoo