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St. Louis organizations offer flood survivors food, supplies to meet urgent needs

Darnise Harrison, 35, of Hazelwood, climbs out of a boat after being rescued by local first responders on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, outside The Reserve at Winding Creek apartment complex in Hazelwood.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Darnise Harrison, 35, of Hazelwood, climbs out of a boat after being rescued by local first responders on July 26 outside the Reserve at Winding Creek apartment complex in Hazelwood.

Weeks after devastating flash floods affected thousands of people in St. Louis and the Metro East, many people remain in need of basic supplies as they navigate federal aid programs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides grants for specific types of flood damage, and the U.S. Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans to individuals and businesses affected by the natural disaster.

But charitable aid organizations and other nonprofits are playing a vital role as they help with urgent needs that might otherwise go unmet.

The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis on Saturday distributed whole chickens, cornbread mix, bags of stew and cleaning supplies at an event that drew 2,500 to 3,000 people in need.

“We were giving some families two or three birds. We really just gave it out until we didn’t have any more,” said John Clark, the Urban League’s vice president for public safety. “It was very heart-wrenching to see the faces, and see children and senior citizens who you know live in constant, desperate need.”

The organization is still accepting donations of goods and money, and working with local churches to help distribute items. People in need do not need to wait for a mass distribution event to get help; they may contact the Urban League directly at 314-615-3600.

Besides food and cash, many people need box fans, dehumidifiers, air blowers, toiletries and cleaning supplies.

The floods drew the attention Team Rubicon, a national organization that demolishes the damaged parts of buildings so homeowners can start to repair or rebuild. Its workers also clear flooded-out basements and remove trash.

That’s work that people affected by floods might otherwise have trouble affording or finding contractors to do.

“The first responders are dealing with the emergency issues. And FEMA is going to come in on the back end and help out with the recovery and the mitigation,” said Sean Riggin, a St. Louis incident commander for Team Rubicon. “But there’s a gap in terms of long-term stabilization response. There's not a lot of people to show up and just do the work.”

Although different aid organizations are stepping up to offer different services, flood survivors may simply dial 2-1-1 to reach a help line run by the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

As nonprofits gather and distribute aid, the work of volunteers has been crucial. More than 200 people volunteered to help at the United Way within a week of the flooding, a spokesperson said.

The scale of the destruction, coming after more than two years of pandemic, moved the Urban League to get involved, although it is not primarily an agency that responds to natural disasters.

“We have been able to pull together a coalition of staff, volunteers, donors and partners to try to provide anything that families need to help them get through this very unexpected tragedy,” CEO Michael McMillan said. The organization has put 200 people into temporary housing, he said.

FEMA workers Wilmary Medina and Elaine Braswell speak to a resident on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, along Cabanne Avenue and North Drive in University City. Hundreds of residents throughout the region were displaced or suffered catastrophic home damage by recent flooding.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
FEMA workers Wilmary Medina and Elaine Braswell speak to a resident on Aug. 10 at Cabanne Avenue and North Drive in University City.

Federal assistance

FEMA has approved $18.6 million in direct grants to 5,000 households as of Monday. The grants may cover home repair, replacement of damaged property, reimbursement for temporary housing and other needs. The U.S. Small Business Administration has approved $2.3 million in low interest loans to individuals and businesses.

FEMA has opened disaster response centers, where flood survivors can talk to a representative in person, in three locations: Ranken Technical College at 1313 Newstead Ave. in St. Louis, the Developmental Disabilities Resource Board at 1025 Country Club Road in St. Charles and the Hazelwood Civic Center at 8969 Dunn Road in Hazelwood.

Additionally, 11 FEMA teams are still canvassing affected neighborhoods on foot, looking for survivors who would like to apply for help.

“When you have a big disaster like this one, with the water rising as quickly as it did and flash flooding affecting so many different homes, it really takes the whole community to respond to an event. FEMA’s just a part of a very large team,” External Affairs Officer John Mills said.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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