Volunteers clean up flood-damaged homes as long-term recovery efforts continue

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Volunteers moved furniture and debris at three houses in South Nashville on Saturday, May 1, continuing cleanup efforts begun weeks ago after thunderstorms and devastating flooding. More than 7 inches of rain fell March 27-28, resulting in flash floods that led to multiple deaths, devastated neighborhoods, and hundreds of displaced residents.

“Nashvillians have shown tremendous resiliency and support for one another over the past year,” said Mayor John Cooper. “The residents whose lives were upended by recent flooding are looking at a long road to recovery. But with community support, survivors will get the help they need to recover and rebuild.”

Residents from nearly 500 houses have reported the need for assistance with demolishing damaged walls and floors, removing debris, and moving furniture. Volunteers recruited by Hands On Nashville (HON) have spent more than 3,200 hours canvassing, cleaning up debris, mucking and gutting houses, and distributing food and supplies.

“We are truly grateful to the volunteers and organizations helping these survivors recover,” said HON President & CEO Lori Shinton, who chairs the Nashville VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster). “But the reality is a lot of people who need help haven’t gotten it yet. So sustained community involvement is absolutely critical.”

HON and other members of Nashville VOAD — a coalition of more than 50 nonprofits, government departments, and community organizations that work together to provide survivor support in the aftermath of disaster — are collaborating to meet the needs of survivors through supply distribution, cleanup work, case management, and more. Saturday’s volunteer cleanup event was held in collaboration with disaster-relief organizations and Nashville VOAD members including Inspiritus, Team Rubicon, Rebuilding Together Nashville and Westminster Home Connection. The Community Resource Center and HON supplied PPE, tools and other equipment for the projects.

“The flood in South Nashville has impacted the Hispanic community in ways that most people don’t see or fully understand,” said Diane Janbakhsh, founder and CEO of the Hispanic Family Foundation. “The families that were affected don’t have access to the resources necessary to rebuild and move on, and subsequently fall through the cracks when it comes to disaster recovery.”

Janbakhsh chairs the Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) for the flood, and said she aims to foster a better understanding of the needs of immigrant communities within the group.

“The trust that the Hispanic community has in the Hispanic Family Foundation and our commitment to them creates a unique opportunity to serve them more effectively and opens the door to trust in LTRG’s mission to help and serve all families affected by disasters regardless of race, sex, language, or religion,” Janbakhsh said.

Disaster Recovery Connection has logged 1,521 flood-survivor contacts in Davidson County through a variety of methods: Individuals requesting help at NashvilleResponds.com, the Crisis Line, Nashville’s Emergency Response Viewing Engine (NERVE) and through referrals from American Red Cross — Tennessee Region.

It’s estimated that more than 200 residents are still in need of assistance with their damaged homes, and many other families need sustained assistance with food and housing costs.

“Disaster Recovery Connection case workers have been on the phones steadily since March 29, capturing loss information and directing survivors to resources,” said Christy Smith of Disaster Recovery Connection. “Homes are uninhabitable, rental units are damaged, unhoused are adrift. For everyone, affordable alternatives are scarce. We are committed to meeting these challenges head on.”

The Crisis Line, led by Family and Children’s Service in partnership with the Disaster Recovery Connection, has facilitated more than 300 calls.

Case workers connect survivors with critical resources supplied by other VOAD member organizations: Food, shelter, financial assistance, even basic comforts. For example, when an apartment complex on Harding Place flooded, Shower The People — a nonprofit that provides mobile shower service to individuals experiencing homelessness — offered showers to apartment residents who were without power and water.

After a year of disasters, Nashville’s nonprofit community is feeling the strain of being spread thin to support growing community needs. But as long as the needs are there, VOAD member organizations will work hard — and work together — to meet them.

“Working together and having access to information from our many nonprofit partners helps us to know what the greatest needs are and what organization is responding to those needs,” said Amy Fair of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT). “Gifts to the Metro Nashville Disaster Response Fund support recovery efforts and enable nonprofits to continue helping flood survivors with needs like debris removal and repair, financial assistance, short-term housing, household goods and clothing, and transportation.”

HELPFUL LINKS

  • Donate to the Disaster Response Fund: Donations to this fund, administered by CFMT, support grants to nonprofits working on relief, restoration, and cleanup efforts in the Davidson County area in the aftermath of flooding and storms. www.cfmt.org/metro
  • Get help with flood-related financial assistance, housing, debris removal and more: Anyone with needs stemming from the March 2021 flood should visit https://nashvilleresponds.com/ or call the Crisis Line at 615-244-7444.
  • Find a flood-relief volunteer project here: Visit hon.org

Photos by Zachary Doud

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