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)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

House in a Box, a service of the national Society of St. Vincent de Paul, is helping those Barron and Rusk County residents hardest hit by last spring’s storms.

A tornado with a record-breaking path tore through the counties on May 16, dropping trees and destroying homes, vehicles, outbuildings and other property.

Aiding residents’ recovery from the tornado has been a long-term project, said Jayne Stewart, executive director of the Rice Lake-based St. Joseph Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

“When I offered to bring House in a Box to our area, St. Vincent de Paul was working hand-in-hand with the other agencies on disaster relief. After the initial MARC (Multi-Agency Resource Center) event, we decided to continue our efforts until we could get everyone into a new residence or into their own repaired one,” Stewart explained.

“Salvation Army, Barron County HHS (Health and Human Services), Red Cedar Church, Maranatha Church, Living Waters Church, Red Cross (in the beginning), Benjamin’s House, and many others worked with us,” she added. “As the community graciously collected and gave many used items from their own homes, it became clear that we would not be able to help everyone with that. So, House in a Box became a reality for those least likely to be able to recover from the effects of the tornado.”

House in a Box, created by Texas conferences during Hurricane Katrina and expanded to the national level, is designed to give disaster victims all they need to set up a new household. All items are new; the Society of St. Vincent de Paul buys beds, furniture and furnishings in bulk to lower costs. After verifying recipients are low-income and uninsured, local conferences purchase them to donate.

Each House in a Box includes a bed and bed linens for each member of the household; a dresser for each bedroom; a kitchen table set and couch; plus utensils, dishes and cookware to stock the kitchen. The cost to set up a new household for a family of four is $2,300, and donations are scalable based on family size.

The program has been used across the country for victims of mudslides, hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, explosions and other disasters. To the best of Stewart’s knowledge, this is the first time a local SVDP chapter has utilized the program.

Last month, members of the Rice Lake conference — along with members of many other community churches and organizations — worked to unload and store the donations and get them to their recipients.

Throughout the disaster relief effort, the Vinnies have connected with families affected by the tornado, provided assistance as needed, synchronized their efforts with other community groups, and offered support, financial and otherwise.

“To date, SVDP has provided approximately $10,000 in financial aid and items from our thrift store in addition to purchasing House in a Box,” Stewart said.