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Church group heading west to aid flooded communities Special

By Charles W. Kim     Jun 26, 2009 in World
Pemberton, NJ – A group of 56 volunteers, including 23 from Pemberton, will hit the road tomorrow to help two Midwest communities rebuild after devastating floods last year.
A caravan of five vans and two trucks will leave the Pemberton United Methodist Church on Hanover Street Saturday morning and travel to Oakville, Iowa where volunteers will spend a week helping the small community of 400 residents with various projects, Pastor Rev. Jere Hopkins-Doerr said.
“This is our fourth (mission) trip,” Hopkins-Doerr said. “It is a very contagious experience.”
The group is made up from churches in Burlington, Monmouth and Mercer counties and is known as the Capitol District Mission Team, Hopkins-Doerr said.
Eleven volunteers first trekked to Flidell, La. in 2006 to help the region rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
That number swelled to 50-60 volunteers during the next two years on outings to the Gulf state to perform volunteer work in that ravaged community, Hopkins-Doerr said.
Flooding of both the Mississippi and Iowa rivers in June 2008, gave the group a new destination for this year’s mission trip.
“There is a tremendous amount of work to be done (here),” Tonya Lanv, volunteer coordinator in Oakville said. “We are blessed beyond belief.”
The four-square mile town suffered massive flooding leaving the entire population homeless last year, Lanv said.
“We have about one-third of the town back,” Lanv said.
That community has conservatively logged more than 60,000 volunteer hours from groups throughout the nation to this point, Lanv said.
At the current pace of work, the town is expected to be half restored in a year to year and a half, Lanv said.
“You don’t see people moping around here,” Lanv said. “The community has hope and a willingness to move forward.”
The majority of the New Jersey group will be working in the Iowa community helping gut damaged homes, rebuilding roofs and installing dry wall, Hopkins Doerr said.
Two other teams will head about 50-60 miles south to Gulfport, Ill. to help out with rebuilding efforts in that community, Hopkins-Doerr said.
Volunteers will spend about a week doing the mission work and will also be treated to a Mississippi river boat cruise and attend a blues festival one night during their stay, Hopkins-Doerr said.
The timing of the mission was scheduled so the group could take advantage of lower rental rates for the vans and trucks, Hopkins-Doerr said.
“We are the ‘bargain basement’ mission team (by driving out instead of flying),” Hopkins-Doerr said referring to another state group that will fly to the region.
Hopkins-Doerr said the group consists of 35 adults and 21 youths aged 14-18 with the adults working on the “higher skill level” projects.
In addition to the help from volunteers from California to Maine, the Iowa town has also set up a non-profit foundation to take donations that will help restore the town, Lanv said.
The federal government has offered some residents who are not able to return to their homes a buy-out of their properties for the pre-flood assessed value plus 10 percent.
The problem with the offers is the land could only be used as green space in the future and homes would not be rebuilt, Lanv said.
“We can’t let that happen,” Lanv said. “Some residents can’t come back.”
The Oakville Volunteer Foundation will take funds donated and buy back the properties at the same rate as the government offer and rebuild on the sites so the town can continue, Lanv said.
“It is important so the volunteers can rebuild and save our community,” Lanv said.
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