Wednesday, Vaughn spent the day shadowing an assessor for SP. Their assessors go around to the different homes of people who have asked SP to come help them, to see if they are a good fit for help from a cleanup crew. The assessors meet with the homeowner, talk to them and look at their home and property to see what needs to be done. Because of Vaughn’s great people skills, and his construction background, he would be a good fit for being an assessor (I think 😉 ); it is something that he is really interested in and a responsibility that he would really enjoy.
There are a lot of questions that the assessors have to ask out in the field; they are striving to minister to those affected by whatever disaster, both physically and spiritually, but they also have to discern if each locations is an area that SP can help in. For legal reasons, one of the many questions that they have to ask, is if the person who lives there is the owner. Sometimes, a person will ask for help, and lie about different things, which puts any volunteer organization in a predicament. You’d like to take everyone’s word for truth, but these days, with liability issues, you have to verify what they say. For instance, earlier this week, when the crew got to one of the job sites, then talked extensively with the ‘homeowner’ she let something slip that made the team leader realize that the home was a rental. In a rental, the tenant does not have the legal authority to alter the property; one of the several items on the work order was to cut down some damaged trees, then eventually demoing the house at a later date! Had SP gone in and demo’d the trees, or tore down the house even though it is a total loss, the real owner could have sued SP, even if they were only improving/cleaning up the property. Her untruthfulness could have really hurt many, many people by the funds organizations might have had to pay out for legal representation, then settlement, instead of being used to help others. Unfortunately, things like this sometimes happen.
But, for the most part, people are on the level, and are so thankful for the help that volunteers bring. Yesterday, Vaughn and the assessor met a man whose home was damaged by the El Reno tornado. He had closed on this house on Tuesday, moved their stuff on Wednesday, and the tornado came through and made it unlivable on Friday. Can you imagine?
While Vaughn was meeting homeowners today, Eli and Beth were out in the field volunteering. They have had such incredibly neat people to work with; they come home physically exhausted (just as much from the heat/humidity as the physical work), but they LOVE it. As a mom, it makes my heart soar when they walk through that front door, hot and sweaty, but smiling and already telling me about their day before the door is shut behind them (and that is pretty quick, trying to keep the cool a/c’d air inside!). I appreciate that they are learning to love to serve, and are encouraged by the (literally hundreds) of adults that have taken the time to connect with them; laughing and fellowshipping as they labor side by side.
Sometimes tho, the job is hard not just physically- understandably, a lot of the victims are still very emotional over the tornado. One lady lives near the school where 7 children died; her daughter attended school there – to hear her tearfully talk of the destruction of the school, and the young lives lost, was heartbreaking. But it is also so good for the kids – they obtain a deeper level of sympathy/empathy. Sometimes, we are so involved in our own lives, that we forget others around us are hurting. The experiences that the kids have had, help them to look outside of themselves at a time when the world it telling them that life is all about them / take all you can get / worry about yourself. 🙁
Yesterday I got up with the kids (bright and early!), and Joel and I went and got the laundry caught up. After that we made a quick run to Aldis and Walmart for groceries, then back to the rv so I could work in the distribution center while Jake and Thomas held down the fort.
The past few days in the donation center have been a lot of fun (I love the person that is in there fulltime this week, and last), but it can be hard too. People who have been affected by the tornado come into the donation center, and are asked to fill out a form that inquires about their address, how they were affected by the tornado, and what their needs are. We don’t require identification, but quite a few of the people voluntarily get out their drivers license, so I’m guessing that some of the other distribution centers require ID. After they finish those few short questions, they can go ‘shopping’, walking among the isles, choosing what they need. For some, we help them pick out items, some just take a cart and go through on their own, and a few we have to intervene because they are working the system (or just plain defrauding it). For instance, yesterday it was just Pam and I, and we had a family come back in (they had been here at least once before); they claim to not speak any English, so they can’t communicate with us or fill out the paperwork (what I would give to be able to speak Spanish since we started traveling! ROFL!). And they come in to stock up for the long haul. After the 10th tube of toothpaste (they only have 2 young children), I went over and ‘helped’ them chose needed items, and move though the center a little quicker (and with no more than the 8 children’s toothbrushes they had already put in their boxes). She will slowly dig through a stack of donations, and put 2 items in her cart, then dig some more and put 2 more of the same, and then dig some more… 😉 Come to find out she is pretty handy with English words if there is something specific that she would like, or if she is making excuses for taking excessive items! LOL!
And while we WANT those affected to stockpile some items so they can funnel their money to other needs, it’s hard to see some people take advantage of the system, and to not consider that there are others with the same needs. (2 ‘shopping trips’, to ? different distribution centers, Xs 8 kids toothbrushes each…) Since I’m not a member of the church, I felt a little weird helping some of the people ‘shop more appropriately’, but then I realized that I actually have an advantage – since I’m NOT a member of the church, if someone complains, the church can say, “yeah, sorry about that, these people just came down from Montana, uninvited, and kind of took over! 🙁 ” LOL! And yes, for the record, I can be assertive and friendly at the same time. 😀(this picture is from when we first arrived. The tables are starting to clear off now)
For the few that take advantage of the system, there are lots of others that it is a joy to help them get back on their feet. The day before, we had a young mom come in and get a few things – she was the type that we had to encourage to take more than one item of things that she needed. She didn’t get much for her husband and herself, mostly for their little girl. We asked if she needed diapers, and she mentioned that her daughter broke out if she used one certain brand, but said that she would be glad for any other kind. Pam (the lady I’ve been working with) and I had such a great time chatting with her, digging through the stacks of diapers to find the best ones for her (we found some special hypoallergenic ones on the bottom 🙂 ), and searching through the piles of baby wipes for the same. She was sweet, genuine, and thankful, and it made our day to help her.
I will admit that I feel a wee bit guilty with my cushy donation center assignments (which I enjoy very much), while my bigs are out in 95 degree weather hauling tree limbs and fence sections (which they enjoy very much), and my littles watch too many movies (which they enjoy very much! LOL!); tho they would prob like to watch them even more than we let them. The littles would enjoy the park more than movies and games, but after about 10am, it’s just too hot to be out there playing without getting heat stroke. The playground is busy until about 9am, then quiet until about 7pm when it cools down some (but it doesn’t cool down much – I had to get up at 2:30 am and turn the ac back on last night, for about half an hour to cool the rv down again, even though we had fans going!!!).
We have had construction guys come in to the church and ask for cases of water. We’ve been giving the water out freely to whoever wants some. Some workers (for profit, not volunteers), came in the other day and asked if they could have some water and use the restroom. We showed them where the bathrooms were, and said they could take some cases of water. I asked them if they needed gloves (we have quite a few), and then gave them 5 pairs. Since we offered them the gloves, I think they thought it was an invitation to go shopping, and as 2 of the guys were walking back to the door, they stopped and picked up some deodorant and looked at me as one smiled and raised his eyebrows as if asking if he could have that also. I said no. LOL! I nicely explained that those types of donations were for those affected by the tornados. If they had been volunteers, we would have let them, but they are already making a very pretty penny off of the insurance companies, and can go 2 blocks over to Walmart and buy their own! 😉
One of the people that had come to the church this week was a man that does independent insurance adjusting. The company that he works for comes in and works with people who think that their insurance company isn’t giving them a fair deal (or those who want their ins co to build them a new house much nicer than their original one). While I know that there is a need for a homeowner representation on some claims, this company charges 10% of the total insurance payout, touting how they can almost always get 20 to 30 percent more out of the insurance company. Sounded like a lawyer gig to me; instead of fair, gouge them for as much as you possibly can – to the point of fraud. We have had claims on our house before, and last year Vaughn took a CAT adjuster’s class in TX, so we understand that your insurance company replaces with like value (doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but similar). This guy was promising to get more out of your ins. company so your could build a nicer house! This happened before my revelation of realizing that I actually had an ‘out’ in not going to church here! …or I would have called him on it more than I did. He already didn’t like me questioning his ‘like value’ statements! LOL!
So, my take on his whole homeowner-advocate deal, is that he either gets you a fair shake from your insurance company (then takes 10%, which on a $300,000 house is $30,000 so you still can’t rebuild a ‘like value’ house because you only have 270k), or he price gouges/frauds your insurance company so that he is charging 10s of thousands of dollars over the value of the home so that you are still able to rebuild-like even after his company’s exorbitant fee). sigh. Personally, I think that someone with integrity, going in and charging a flat fee to negotiate a fair settlement, for both the insurance company and the homeowner, would be the right thing to do. I am absolutely all for letting people amass wealth if that is their desire (no socialist here), but at least do it fairly and with integrity. And then to prey on people who are in emotional distress from losing their homes to a disaster? -that stinks.
There are also a few scams that we have heard of (and prob lots that we haven’t heard of!) – while we haven’t ‘run into’ them, I’m sure that they are out there!
One of the ones that bothers me the most is guys going into a homeowner and pretending they are part of a volunteer organization (or FEMA, RC…). They tell the homeowner something along the lines of ‘we are here to clean up your property for free/to be paid by the gov. But we need you to sign this release form authorizing us to do so.’ The distraught homeowner skims it, then signs it… and the guys DO do the work, but then they come back and say that the agency won’t reimburse them and then demand inflated payment from the homeowner, who then has to pay according to the fine print on the agreement.
But, while it’s been an eye-opener to see some of the scams that we have heard of happening, it’s not been all doom and gloom! The good still, and by far, outweighs the bad.
Most of the recipients of the donations have been so appreciative, and thankful for those that donated the items!
We have had people come into town, find their own lodging, and come into the church wondering where they could sign up to help out somewhere/anywhere (just like we had planned on doing it! LOL! ).
We had a pastor and his wife drive clear up from along the Mexican border in Arizona, bringing the church a large box of baby clothes, donated money to help 2 needy families, and another large check from church in TX, for this church to oversee distribution of.
We also had a young teenage girl, who had collected 2500 stuffed animals in Reno, NV, come by the church; her dad and mom drove her all the way here in a moving van. She was driving around to the different donation distribution centers, and she donated 2 big boxes here of toys.
There is supposed to be another supplies truck come in tomorrow (I believe that this is the last one that the church knows of).
And there are hundreds, probably thousands, of volunteers out in the field every day (in fact, the kids found out that SP alone had 398 volunteers on Saturday! Can you imagine how many volunteers were out and about in all!?! wow!).
That’s a lot of work getting done!!!
Being on a bigger recovery effort than both GA and MS put together (we didn’t get to Tuscaloosa for the first time until a year after their big tornado), has been an eye-opener. Would we do it again? So far, absolutely!!! 😀