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Organizations stepping up in offering aid to tornado victims

Natalie West and Stephany Santellano of Diamond sweep Laura Lane as part of the clean up effort in Diamond Estates.
Natalie West and Stephany Santellano of Diamond sweep Laura Lane as part of the clean up effort in Diamond Estates.

DIAMOND – As hundreds of families work to salvage what they can of their destroyed homes, local organizations, businesses and community members have stepped up to try and make it a little easier.

“It was phenomenal. Bus loads of people in orange vests were going everywhere,” Diamond Mayor Terry Kernc said. “It continues to amaze me, more and more people keep coming out.”

Just before 12:30 p.m. Sunday a tornado ripped through the area and damaged about 220 residences, more than 75 of which are considered to have major damage, Kernc said. The tornado’s path went more than 12 miles, starting in Coal City and ending in Wilmington.

Now these affected families are trying to save what they can of their homes, as well as clean up the best they can.

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, ComEd had restore power to everyone in the area except for 14 residences, Kernc said, with everyone expected to be restored by 9 p.m.

In addition to restoring power, ComEd sent three buses, one of which was used to transport volunteers to different areas of the village to help with clean up. The company also supplied water and bags of ice to residences without power to keep food cold.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday affected residents are invited to a meeting at Diamond Banquet Hall, 55 S. Daley St., where information and resources will be provided on what to do next. Representatives from area agencies, utility companies and government agencies will be available until noon. Affected residents are asked to at least come by to provide the village with their contact information so officials can contact them regarding rebuilding efforts.

Cost estimates on the local damage still are not known, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to be doing preliminary assessments Thursday and Friday, she said.

Some of the agencies that will be there include the Secretary of State’s office, and representatives of organizations providing financial assistance.

Operation St. Nick, the Community Foundation of Grundy County, We Care of Grundy County and United Way of Grundy County have designated $70,000 to help with immediate needs for tornado victims.

These agencies began taking applications Tuesday for mini-grants at the Coal City United Methodist Church where they received about 27 applicants, said Devan Gagliardo of the Community Foundation.

“In the 30 years of St. Nick, we’ve never had an emergency situation and now we have had two in one year,” said Joe Schmitz, president and founder of Operation St. Nick.

St. Nick, the Community Foundation and We Care also helped flood victims in April with grants when Morris and surrounding areas flooded so badly some residents had to be rescued from their homes.

Applications for the grants will be available Wednesday from 8 a.m. to noon at Diamond Banquet Hall and then from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at the Methodist church.

Assistance will be given through gift cards or by organization members purchasing items with the families at local stores, Schmitz said. Applicants need to bring proof of residency and photos of the damage to their homes.

Families also can keep receipts of expenses they have already incurred for the application and may be reimbursed through gift cards as well.

“We are trying to target those with the greatest impact first,” said Missy Durkin, St. Nick board member. “As more funds come in, it may allow us to help more affected by the storm.”

We Care’s portion of the funds have to be used for low-income families toward rent or mortgage payments. The application process will determine what families can qualify for.

The goal of the organizations is to notify the families if they will receive assistance by the end of the week.

“The feeling from [people at the church looking for help Tuesday] is they are so thankful because so much help is being offered,” Gaska said.

For many of the affected families it has been difficult to accept help, she added. They have said they are used to providing help, not needing it.

“Many have said they feel guilty accepting help because they don’t feel they have it as bad as others,” Gaska said.

Donations received at Mazon State Bank will be added to the tornado help fund and donations can also be sent to the Community Foundation. Checks should be made to the “Community Foundation of Grundy County” then put “disaster fund” in the memo line. They can be mailed or dropped off to 102 Liberty St., Morris, IL 60450.

In addition, Operation St. Nick has also extended its application time for the “12 Days of Christmas Giving”, a program that assists military families in need during the Christmas season. The deadline has been extended to Saturday for Diamond and Coal City military families only. For an application visit Standard Bank, 20 S. Kankakee St., Coal City. A separate $30,000 was allocated for this program with about $2,500 available for 12 families.

“There may be veterans who need help now that didn’t before the tornado,” Schmitz said.

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