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updated 10:30 AM, Aug 2, 2021 America/Chicago

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Center of Hope helping tornado victims cope, rebuild (VIDEO)

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5247COURTESY PHOTO Home after tornado in April, 2020.

Putting plans into action

BY BRIAN BESCH

An organization that has done so much for so many after tragedy struck in Onalaska and Seven Oaks wishes to give thanks for all who contributed to helping those when it was most needed.

Center of Hope in Livingston has helped over 50 homes with damage from the tornado in April with the funds brought in from the community. Center of Hope disaster response coordinator Mike Fortney said the funds provided allowed some homes to receive extensive repair, while others required only a moderate amount.

The task of helping in repairs is one leadership at Center of Hope expects to be complete by the end of winter. There are still five or six residences, but Fortney said some repairs to those are complete. After those have been tackled, the total will be just shy of 60 homes.

Anything from wheelchair ramps, to roofs, decks, windows, doors, fences and walls — the many agencies partnering with the center were able to repair for those in need after the deadly storm. An emphasis was placed on homes that were either uninsured or underinsured.

20210118 124715COURTESY PHOTO Home under reconstruction.

Over 30 families received assistance with non-construction aid as part of Unmet Needs. This ministry helps families with needs stemming from the tornado to replace items such as appliances, furniture, vehicles or household goods. They were even able to replace a set of dentures that blew away during the tornado.

This week, the Enterprise had the opportunity to visit two families who have received such help. Each had a tree that fell into the home, both of which were within arm’s length of where they were bracing for the storm.

At the O’Donnell home, a roof and ramp were built, while the family worked on flooring for the house. The Flanigans, a family of seven, lost nearly everything and began building themselves. Volunteer groups traveled to help them complete a home, and installed windows and electrical. They are currently adding on another room for additional space.

It takes a village, and Center of Hope has certainly built that. Among those helping were Economy Maintenance and Repair, Dowden Leveling and Texas Choice Home Construction. They all worked to fix dozens of homes, giving reduced prices in most cases to spread Center of Hope funds or even absorbing the costs themselves. As Covid-19 hampered the volunteer team roster and Hurricane Laura drew other teams away, the contractor partners were a large part of the process and continue to do so. 

Church repair teams include First United Methodist Church of Onalaska, United Methodist Army of Kingwood, Lone Star Cowboy Church from Montgomery County, First Baptist Church of Livingston, Cypress UMC, and Atlanta UMC. Many homes were repaired by these teams, who volunteered time and resources to the incredible project.

There were churches that also helped in other ways, like food and donations. Those include First United Methodist Church of Onalaska, Revival Center Church of Onalaska, and First Baptist Church of Onalaska. These groups adopted individual families, helped fix homes, ran a furniture warehouse for survivors, fed survivors and provided spiritual care for families. All ministered to families and continue to do so.

The Orphan Grain Train out of Nebraska sent a large donation of materials totaling $35,000 that filled a warehouse. That warehouse, was arranged by Calvary Medical of Livingston, which allowed donated building materials to be stored free of charge and is still used today.

The chambers of commerce, along with leadership from Polk County and the City of Onalaska helped tackle several challenges in response and recovery.

All of this help was in addition to the immediate response from Center of Hope following the storm, where they set up a donation center, coordinated hot meals and volunteers, and supplied bulk food, water and materials to the impacted area.

Fortney said, most of all, God gave his team solutions before new problems existed. Prayers were answered providing work teams, materials and funds. Teams were kept safe and what he calls "mini miracles" made the difference in getting the jobs completed.

Trailers and vehicles were available at the right time to meet a specific need. Material donors covered the bulk of what was necessary for most projects. Teams arrived from outside of Polk County with the skills to complete jobs. A warehouse space was supplied at the right moment as donating materials were on their way, and several times donors showed up with the exact things needed at that moment.

With the work in Onalaska nearly complete, there are limited resources still available to help survivor families. If a family has a lingering need stemming from the tornado, they may contact the Center of Hope at 935-327-7634 or visit 600 South Washington in Livingston to work with the group there.

For those looking to help the Center of Hope, donations are always put to good use. There will also be a barbecue fundraiser at the Center of Hope Feb. 27 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Plates are $10, with proceeds going toward the vehicle used in disaster response.

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