Habitat starts sandbag program
Stevens County residents continued to safeguard against rising water levels early last week.
For Habitat for Humanity Colville Valley Partners, this meant engaging the community in an effort to save homes by giving out sandbags, filled or empty, to family's whose homes were threatened by water.
Ian Pickett, Habitat's public relations manager, said the sandbag program started last Monday morning with a Facebook post at 7 a.m. Pickett had been following all of the flood news and realized the Colville area lacked a sandbag program.
“By the time I got to work I was like 'let's make a sandbag program,'” said Pickett.
Habitat Executive Director Lisa Meddock approved of the idea and by the end of the morning they had purchased their first 50 sandbags from Colville Valley Concrete for a “great price.”
“That's what we started with and pretty soon it took on a life of its own,” Pickett noted.
On March 21 the volunteers Habitat was able to procure on short notice were 45 minutes into filling bags when the call came out that someone needed help evacuating their home.
This wasn't just any home though, Pickett had met the residents the day before.
On March 20 Pickett was driving on Oakshott road while taking his kids home from school when he spotted encroaching water around a two-story white house. He stopped and passed his contact information along, offering to come back the next day with sandbags.
Water continued to rise and by the next day it had already reached the porch steps.
“By the time I came back it was already past sandbags,” said Pickett, adding that at that point all the volunteers could do was help with the evacuation process.
Habitat volunteers loaded furniture onto a trailer and hauled them to a safe location to be stored.
“I appreciate Habitat stepping up and helping me out in my time of need,” said Breeann Noble, the occupant of the house.
Meddock said Habitat assisting in the evacuation process was a “very unique” situation and gave kudos to Pickett for stopping to help.
Meddock had opened Habitat's job site to fill the sandbags with dirt before realizing the county's gravel pits had been opened for that purpose.
On March 23, Meddock said she met with county officials who approved Habitat taking the lead role filling and distributing sandbags. After the sandbag project was approved, Habitat received more sandbags from the county.
“With us doing the sandbagging it really helped out. It was just a good partnership all the way around,” said Meddock.
Pickett explained that Habitat has partnered with Jim Caruso, Director of Stevens County Emergency Management, and the Red Cross, who are responsible for evacuating flood victims. Habitat can act as a middle man, helping people get ahold of emergency services. People are asked to call Emergency Services, but if no one can be reached, they're told to call Habitat at 509-684-2319.
Habitat gave out 100 bags last Thursday to a family affected by the flood in the valley westside area, and delivered another 150-200 filled bags to other locations.
According to Meddock, Habitat has given out approximately 400 bags and still have 750 on hand and ready to go.
By Friday, Meddock said there was one other home Habitat was keeping an eye on because of water levels.
“The county has been really helping us with sandbags since we initialized the sandbag filling session,” explained Meddock. “We had donations flooding in and calls coming in for both volunteers and those in need. People have been donating sandbags and the money to buy sandbags.”
Initially Heather Brown, Habitat Administrative Assistant, Meddock and Pickett were taking on the majority of the responsibilities for the sandbag program.
One partnering family, who had a home built by Habitat, offered assistance, and a few other volunteers were able to show up on short notice.
Ty Homes traveled from Deer Park to volunteer and ended up helping in the evacuation.
Pickett described the number of volunteers as “hit and miss,” mainly because of the work hours and when things needed to get done. The most volunteers they had working at one time was 10.
“We've had a pretty good response, considering the hours and people at work and everything else,” Pickett noted. “I think as the need starts to arise more often it's going to become more important to people.”
After the evacuation, Pickett and Meddock sat down to discuss what they could do with the sandbag program. Their long-term goal is to have a list of volunteers who can be called on in emergency situations.
“There are going to be times when all we have to rely on is each other,” said Pickett.
Pickett believes next year, if a similar situation occurs, Habitat will be able to quickly assemble the sandbag program with greater success.
If anyone needs sandbags, or wants to be added to the volunteer list, call the store and ask for Meddock or Pickett.
“I think what we've done here, has not only raised awareness, but it's opened a dialogue between us and the county,” Pickett explained. “We've dealt with so many fires over the past couple of years that people kind of forgot about the water. So now we're being reminded of water.”