By Marcy Stamper
Although hundreds of people are still literally digging out from the devastation of the wildfire—and firefighters still working to control it—a network of individuals and organizations has begun building a network for longer-term recovery.
Some 40 people from local social-service agencies, environmental organizations and health-care providers held their second weekly meeting on Thursday (July 31) to create a group that will focus on the long-term recovery process. They were joined by volunteers from around the country—religious groups that focus on disaster relief and the Red Cross—and by representatives of state and local governments.
Attendees at the meeting described their long hours over the past several weeks collecting and distributing donations, helping people find temporary housing, and researching opportunities for financial assistance. A long-term recovery organization (LTRO) would harness this energy and be a central place for cataloguing needs and distributing funds, and help the community take advantage of outside resources and avoid duplicating efforts.
An LTRO would most likely hire a coordinator, who would work with other groups and caseworkers. The LTRO could apply for grants, provide referrals and manage volunteers and donations.
The Okanogan County Community Action Council is already serving as an umbrella group for disaster recovery and a liaison with national organizations, and would be part of the new organization.
Lots of cooperation
Many in the network are already immersed in some aspect of longer-term recovery. Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said she had been in contact with the mayor of Darrington so that the Methow Valley can use models that community built for recovery after the Oso mudslide.
Ing-Moody has also been working with local and state officials to document housing needs.
Room One and The Cove have expanded their assistance and advocacy for people needing financial and social support. The Community Foundation of North Central Washington is working on raising money for long-term recovery, said Executive Director Beth Stipe.
Chambers of commerce and regional tourism organizations are planning a campaign to encourage tourists to come to the Methow Valley and Okanogan County. “We need to support businesses and keep our economy strong to avoid long-term unemployment,” said Julie Muyllaert, president of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce.
TwispWorks will help with economic development, including devising ways to bring more outside money into the community.
“The school will provide wraparound services for kids so they feel safe at school,” said Liberty Bell High School Principal Deborah DeKalb. “The schools are a microcosm of the community. We will see every need there,” said Methow Valley Elementary Principal Anne Andersen.
Among the volunteer efforts that would be organized by the LTRO are helping people fill out paperwork, assess the extent of their loss, and provide mental health counseling.
Methow Recycles is looking for ways to funnel money from metal recycling back into the community. The Methow Valley Citizens’ Council and the Methow Conservancy are focusing on ways to protect and restore the natural environment.
Other LTRO activities would include improved preparedness and communications for potential future disasters.
Several of the local social service agencies at the meeting were talking with their boards of directors about their potential role in an LTRO. No decisions about leadership or administrative roles had been made as of press time.
Another aspect of long-term response is a multi-agency resource center, or MARC, currently being set up in the old grocery store in Pateros to serve as a central location for people to meet with representatives from groups such as the Okanogan County Housing Authority, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and mental health providers, according to Chris Epps, public information officer for Team Rubicon, which is organizing the center.
Team Rubicon is a nonprofit organization of veterans who work with first responders on disaster relief.
It has been managing relief operations in Pateros. Fifty Team Rubicon volunteers have been helping with clean-up and debris removal throughout the county for the past few weeks.
The MARC is expected to open on Monday (Aug. 11). Projected hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (509) 416-6280.