June 23, 2008

Area Groups Join Forces to Help Flood Victims

By Joe Orso, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jun. 23--When disasters such as two floods in the past year strike a region, finding out which relief organization is going to do what, where, when and for whom can get confusing.

Enter the Wisconsin Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster -- or VOAD -- made up of volunteer organizations with a state presence such as Lutheran Social Services and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Through the umbrella organization, member groups coordinate efforts to best use their resources and avoid duplication of services after disasters.

"It helps us to help people," said Mary Fitzpatrick, emergency services director for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse.

The Wisconsin VOAD, part of a national group, was founded about 15 years ago.

After last August's floods, the group kicked into action, forming four regional long-term recovery committees to respond to the disaster.

Fitzpatrick is chairwoman of the regional committee that includes La Crosse, Crawford and Vernon counties, which has met twice a month since the August 2007 floods. At a recent meeting, Fitzpatrick said, the director of emergency management for Vernon County updated the group about the aftermath of recent floods there.

Terri Leece, chairwoman of the Wisconsin VOAD and director of disaster services for The Salvation Army in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, said the organization is looking to expand the regional committees to include the new counties affected by the recent floods.

"It's the easiest way to stay up as to what the needs are," Leece said.

The state VOAD applied for nonprofit status after last year's floods, and it receives donations through the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the group's fiscal agent.

Keith Lang, disaster human services coordinator for Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, said the VOAD offers an additional resource to individuals who have exhausted federal and insurance support.

"The VOAD is engaged in the recovery for the long run," Lang said. "Like any event, three or four months after it occurs and it stops appearing in the news, the story becomes dated. But for the person who is attempting to recover, that story is front page every day."

How to help

Make checks payable to Wisconsin Council of Churches, write "Flood Relief" in the memo, and send them to Wisconsin Council of Churches, 750 Windsor St., Suite 301, Sun Prairie, WI 53590.

Joe Orso can be reached at (608)791-8429 or [email protected]


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