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Grundy County residents receive mini-grants

DIAMOND – Just before the tornado hit Nov. 17, Refugio Luevano was outside trying to move his truck into the garage to protect it from the hail.

“The lights went out and the whole garage collapsed on him,” said Refugio’s daughter, Veronica Luevano.

Refugio’s wife, Requel, was on her way to the basement when she went back for flashlights. As her husband was trapped in the rubble of the garage, she became trapped in the house from the storm damage.

Their farmhouse at Spring and Berta roads was the first call emergency responders went to after an EF2 tornado, with winds faster thatn 120 mph, struck the Diamond and Coal City area, damaging at least 220 buildings.

“[My mother] called me and I called 9-1-1,” Veronica Luevano said.

The couple had a friend over who did make it to the basement, but all three spent time in the hospital.

The three have been released and are recovering, Veronica Luevano said. But her parents’ house is a “total loss.” They currently are staying with Veronica.

But the family received a little bit of good news Tuesday morning. They arrived at Diamond Village Hall to receive a mini-grant from Operation St. Nick, the Community Foundation of Grundy County and the United Way of Grundy County.

“A lot of people have been helping and we’re thankful for all the support we have been given,” Veronica Luevano said.

Support for the state as a whole is on its way as well: On Tuesday night, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that federal disaster aid would be made available to Illinois, according to a news release from FEMA.

The declaration makes federal funding available to affected individuals in 15 counties, including Grundy County. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Locally, the organizations providing the mini-grant funding spent most of Tuesday giving checks to those who applied and were approved for assistance. They are providing $104,000 to 86 families so far, said Joe Schmitz, St. Nick founder and president. Applications are being accepted through Dec. 6.

“It really was rewarding because everyone was so grateful,” he said.

We Care of Grundy County and the Kendall-Grundy Community Action also have about $20,000 available to assist those affected by the tornado, but their funds are income based. They are giving out 12 mini-grants, Schmitz said.

Applications are available at Diamond Village Hall, 1750 E. Division St., Diamond.

As people received their grants, many asked the representatives to make sure their neighbors were on the list to be taken care of, as well.

“It’s amazing sometimes how tragedies like this and devastation can bring a community and family together,” Schmitz said. “One guy said to me he didn’t know any of his neighbors, but he said, ‘Now I know them and love them all.’ ”

Ryan and Crystal Aldridge of Farm Stone subdivision in Diamond also were recipients of a mini-grant Tuesday.

On the day of the tornado, the couple and their three children were just getting out of their vehicle when the sirens went off.

The family ran into their home and down to the basement. Shortly after the sirens turned off, Crystal and Ryan went back upstairs, where Crystal Aldridge said she saw the tornado coming right for their home.

The sirens returned and the couple ran back to the basement, where the family huddled together in a bathroom.

“We felt this pressure in our ears and our head. It felt like my head was going to explode,” Crystal Aldridge said.

“It sounded like the house was being torn apart,” Ryan Aldridge added.

The parents just kept telling their kids it was going to be OK, and it was all over in about 15 seconds.

When they came out of the bathroom, Ryan Aldridge said they could smell the rain, and leaves were blown down the stairs. When they went upstairs the front door had been blown inside the house.

Their home is uninhabitable, so they are staying in Morris.

Receiving the mini-grant and all the donations from people giving items at Coal City United Methodist Church has brought them more than just comfort.

“It’s so amazing. We’ve been emotional. We’ve been more emotional than through the storm itself,” Crystal Aldridge said. “So many people have shown up to help.”

“You definitely see the good in people,” Ryan Aldridge added.

Ross Cloe of Sterling Estates subdivision said he was at a loss for words when he received his mini-grant.

“I’ve always been a pessimist in the past ... and [now], I’m thinking, my gosh people actually care,” he said.

Cloe and his family cannot live in their house because the roof was taken by the storm. What remains of his home has to be torn down, he said.

If the tornado had hit at night when they were asleep, he said his family would not have lived because the roof trusses landed on their beds.

“But you know we’re alive, that’s all that matters,” he added.

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