Darla Amundson and Kevin Duffield stand behind House in a Box donations in a Barron County warehouse. Volunteers from the SVDP and many other community organizations have been working for months to help tornado victims recover. (Submitted photo)

Jayne L. Stewart,
executive director
St. Joseph Conference of the
Society of St. Vincent de Paul

I was on vacation May 16 but had stopped back in town late that afternoon to take a class that was cancelled due to the possibility of dangerous weather. I watched the frightening weather draw closer on TV.

Soon after, I received a call from our (Society of St. Vincent de Paul) conference vice president and president. Red Cross had requested dry clothing for people who would be headed to the temporary shelter at Mosaic Telecom in Barron; 10:30 p.m. found us digging through boxes in the Thrift Store’s shed for out-of-season sweatshirts, pajamas, etc. Dave Librande and Jim Kriska headed to Mosaic with the clothing, and my husband and I headed home to plan on the possibility of future help needed.

In the morning, I received a call from the Red Cross asking for a list of agencies to invite to the MARC (Multi-Agency Resource Center) on Friday and Saturday at Mosaic. We received the call because we had just organized area groups after the devastating fire/explosion in Rice Lake in January.

I went back to where I was on vacation on Wednesday afternoon to pack up and come back to assist however I would be needed. I applied for our National St. Vincent de Paul Council’s Disaster Emergency Response Grant. We had $5,000 within days. The wonderful St. Vincent de Paul staff and home visit teams jumped into overdrive to prepare. We had teams at the MARC for the entire two days. Being in a position to comfort and begin to give hope and support to people who were injured, still in shock and in many cases had lost all their possessions was humbling and had us on the verge of tears often.

While we gathered information from the victims, we started connecting with some of the other agencies there to start breaking down barriers. We were able to pay for first months’ rent for two families in a Catholic Charities building that had two vacancies and get them into housing that night. One of our members started working on connecting people who had cars to donate with those who had their cars destroyed in the tornado. This allowed people to get back to work. One gentleman just needed work shoes. We went over to Farm and Fleet and purchased them immediately. We handed out cards to restaurants for hot meals, and paid for many, many hotel stays along with other agencies. Our volunteers arranged for windshields to be fixed so cars could be driven legally, some storage units to keep some undamaged possessions dry and safe while residences could be found or fixed, and mobile homes to be moved. We helped connect a family from Illinois to a Chetek family with a donated camper to live in while their next home was made livable. St. Vincent de Paul paid for the new titles needed.

I am so proud of the people that are part of the St. Vincent de Paul family. They have worked tirelessly for a long time, not thinking of themselves, but of the people who had a need that had to be met. Sometimes it meant money from St. Vincent de Paul, but other times it meant money from others (individuals and agencies) with a lot of hours spent searching and connecting people to each other. This resulted in many more families finding temporary and permanent housing. Barron County can be proud of the cooperation between residents, nonprofits, government agencies, civic and church groups in working together without egos or titles getting in the way.

While preparing to bring in St. Vincent de Paul’s House in a Box program, our staff and volunteers have been contacting and talking to people and families that could benefit from this program. More hours given without hesitation.

These are just some of the stories. Our prayers and love go out to those affected as they work to put the pieces of their lives back together. This is not the end of the story, and St. Vincent de Paul will continue to help in the coming months, as recovery takes a long time.