Dexter Relief Fund Continues to Help Reshape Community Nearly Six Months Later
Faith in Action director says $265,000 of the $331,000 raised has already been put to use in the Dexter area.
Though the tornado that ripped through the Dexter area in March left significant property damage and long-lasting emotional scars for many residents, the generosity of neighbors proved to be much stronger than the EF3-class winds.
This is perhaps most tangibly recognizable in the form of the Dexter Relief Fund, which to date has reach over $330,000 in donations for dispersal amongst those impacted by the devastating event.
According to Nancy Paul, executive director of Faith in Action, the Chelsea-based organization charged with organizing the dissemination of the collected funds, people immediately expressed interest in helping the tornado victims.
“I think within 24 hours of when the tornado had hit, it was Matt Lafontaine and the folks at Lafontaine Chevrolet that got together with the people from the bank and set up what they were calling a tornado fund, which later became the Dexter Relief Fund,” she said.
She said representatives from the dealership parked vans in front of one the subdivisions hardest hit by the tornado. “So car after car is just pulling in and money is being thrown in jars.”
The money piled up so quickly that those taking in the donations realized they needed to come up with a fast, yet comprehensive method of getting the financial relief to those in the most immediate need.
“As the money kind of kept coming in, it was really only a matter of days before that fund was up to $60,000, and then almost $100,000,” Paul said, “and they were saying, ‘What do we do with this money now?’”
Faith in Action also became the place to store food and other material goods that were being donated, according to Paul, given her organization is quite used to helping those in crisis. These factors prompted her and colleagues to take the lead in creating a monetary dispersal plan. A committee was formed, composed of representatives from several community organizations, and work began.
To date, Paul’s numbers show some 80 percent of the total $331,000 has already been given away, with the six-month mark representing a shift toward using the remaining money to fund larger public clean-up projects.
“We’ve given away, or committed within the next week or so, close to $265,000 of it,” she said. “About $210,000 of that has gone to individual households, so people were able to fill out a really brief one-page application, provide some documentation of what they were being reimbursed for or what we were paying for, so we have given money to about 220 households.”
Tree removal a priority
Another portion of the fund was put to use after collaborating with Dexter Township’s Public Safety Advisory Committee.
“There was just a massive number of trees that were mowed down by the tornado,” she said, “so there was a big effort back in May to get the flipped-up stumps out.”
An industrial wood chipper was brought in to do so, Paul said.
“Dexter Township paid for part of it, but about $10,000 came out of the fund for that,” she said.
After the roads had been cleared, the next step was to help clear the trees from individual properties, an overwhelming task for some homeowners, according to
“The secondary effort in May was to really get the stumps out of people’s yards so that people could sort of get their households back in some semblance of order,” she said. “There were people that had 40 trees on their property and lost 39 of them, or people that had 70 trees and lost 50. I mean it was a massive amount of debris that had to be taken care of.”
While most of these flipped-up stumps have been removed, Paul says the next priority is to tackle the significant amount of broken and dead trunks that remain standing.
“We were sort of hoping back in May that we would be able to take care of the flipped-up stumps and the stumps that were still upright where trees had been snapped off,” she said. “Pine trees will snap off, they won’t necessarily flip up because the wood is weaker, so there’s still a lot of stumps in people’s yards that are upright.”
Though Paul said she and colleagues have compiled a fairly exhaustive list at this point of the trees still needing to be removed, she also said anyone who has yet to report downed trees on their property in the affected area are welcome to do so.
“Most of those stumps have been inventoried,” she said. “If there’s anybody that has not had any contact with anybody about their stumps, they certainly are encouraged to give us a call.”
The fund wraps up
Now that the period needed to effectively clear all of the claims from individuals is concluding, Paul said the time between now and next spring will likely be when the fund exhausts itself, concluding with revitalization and beautification by way of some new trees.
“With the remainder of the fund, what we really intend to do is the larger scale projects,” she said. “So it’s to bring the stumps down to the ground, and then we’re going to partner with the Rotary Club, who’s really stepped up. They’re going to take leadership in replanting trees next spring and generate a large inventory of trees so people can start replanting.”
The reward of the effort
One of the best parts of being associated with such a large and long-term charitable endeavor is getting to witness all of the individual stories of triumph and restoration, according to Paul.
While speaking fondly of all of the families the fund has worked to help, Paul pulled a light green folder from her desk filled with a tall stack of ‘thank you’ cards she and colleagues have received.
“You wouldn’t believe how happy people are,” she said. “A lot of these are people who have never asked for help of any kind before, and almost 100 percent across the board are people who feel slightly uncomfortable about asking for help.”
Aside from the reconstruction the fund provided for, it also gave a few hundred local children the ability to attend a week-long day camp earlier this summer, totally free of charge. Children from families most directly impacted by the tornado received priority sign-up, Paul said.
“We just figured it was a way for the fund to kind of give back to the community as a whole, because even households where there was no shingles torn off their roof, or whatever, really everyone in the community was affected,” she said. “Even if the tornado didn’t tear the roof off their house, there are still kids in town who, every time it starts to rain, they get scared. So, the tornado really did affect the entire community on some level.”
Because Faith in Action is a faith-based assistance organization, perpetually offering those in need resources such as financial help, access to a diverse food pantry and no-cost clothing, Paul said she knew some people in the Dexter community would face an even greater challenge in trying to reconcile their lives following the tornado, given they were already in a place of hardship.
“There are definitely people whose homes were not just physically saved, but who whose ability to hang on to their home was really guaranteed because of this fund,” she said. “There are people who have said that if it wasn’t for this fund, my family would potentially be looking at being on the street. So, we feel like the fund really accomplished what it set out to accomplish.”
Though Paul admits Faith in Action was already very busy prior to taking on the task of working with the relief fund, and that she and colleagues have worked many long hours in order to rise to the challenge of the additional task, she said the true heroes in all of this are those residents who faced the devastation first-hand and did whatever needed to be done in order to get the Dexter community back to a place of normalcy.
“Allowing yourself to go ahead and accept somebody else’s gift is a really, really hard thing for a lot of people,” she said. “So really the people who have been willing to accept money from the fund really deserve some credit because it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Paul also has nothing but kind words for all of those who gave their time, various supplies and hard-earned money to help their weary neighbors.
“Anybody who donates money to a fund like that just really, desperately wants to be able to help somebody’s life recover,” she said. “It’s a heart response. Every $5 that anyone gives is just a heartfelt desire to help somebody who’s been affected.”