DIAMOND – For Diamond tornado victim Colleen Arias, getting the resources she needs has not been easy.
“Knowing who to call for what service and finding all the right contacts – it’s been tough,” Arias said.
But Monday, Arias found almost everything she needed in one place – Diamond Banquet Hall.
“Having all of these resources together instead of trying to contact everyone one by one really helps,” Arias said. “Today, I crossed a lot off my list.”
More than 25 local, state and federal vendors set up tables inside Diamond Banquet Hall on Monday to offer assistance to tornado victims from Grundy and Will counties. The event was the fourth Multi-Agency Resource Center – or M.A.R.C. – set up in Illinois, all of which have been for victims of the recent tornadoes. The event was coordinated and staffed by Red Cross volunteers from across the region.
“This is a new concept for Illinois, but it’s been implemented in several other states,” said Charlotte Hazel, chief of Community Partnerships for Red Cross and event coordinator. “This is sort of a one-stop shop for those impacted by the disaster so they don’t have to call around. They can deal directly with representatives.”
So far, the M.A.R.C.s have helped more than 1,000 people in need, Hazel said.
Victims who came to Monday’s M.A.R.C. were provided with personal guides who would asses their needs and take them to the appropriate vendors, but victims were encouraged to stop at all vendors regardless of need.
“They can take all of the information, even if they themselves don’t need it, because maybe they have a neighbor who does and couldn’t be here today,” said Karen Nall, executive director of the Grundy County United Way.
Tornado victims could apply for FEMA assistance money, recruit volunteers for debris clean up, talk to ComEd representatives, receive counseling and therapy, have trees and stumps removed and more.
“Everyone was really helpful and friendly,” Diamond tornado victim Larry Ziln said of the event. “All we needed were laborers to help clean debris and we got plenty. It was great.”
The event lasted for eight hours, but Hazel said the plan is to help every individual in the area that was affected by the disaster.
“If anyone misses the M.A.R.C., then we will get their information so we can contact them tomorrow and make sure they have everything they need,” Hazel said.
Vendors from Illinois Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster offered assistance in a variety of ways.
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation offered care packages and $300 and $500 debit cards to victims.
About 14 therapy dogs from Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy attended the M.A.R.C. The dogs were there to provide emotional comfort and lower the blood pressure levels of those in distress. Cyndi Gross, coordinator for Rainbow Animal, said the dogs are particularly comforting for those who have lost pets in a disaster.
Animal therapy groups have tested the effectiveness of therapy dogs on firefighters after they fight a fire, Gross said.
“Those firefighters who had the dogs afterwards, on average, their blood pressure was 22 points lower,” she said.
Gross said the dogs have gone to all other resource centers for Illinois tornado victims.
“I let the dogs just sit next to some of the people in line,” Gross said. “People were talking to the dogs, crying and telling them all kinds of things. It was magical.”
More than 200 residences affected by the Nov. 17 tornado still have a long way to full recovery, but Hazel said she hopes the event provided everyone with the contact information and paperwork needed to continue the process.