Editor’s note: Toledo Free Press will follow the Blank family of Millbury for the next year as they rebuild their lives after a June 5 tornado destroyed their Main Street home.
Ed Blank could have stayed a victim. Instead, he took a tragedy and became the unofficial spokesman for tornado relief.
Blank said he tries to keep track of what money is available for tornado victims and who they can contact. He even made a list of people he knows whose homes were affected by the June 5 storm, which he estimates to be 75 to 100.
“This is not about me,” he said. “I am going to make it. I have a good job. I work for a great company, but there are a lot of people who really need help still.”
Blank, who has worked at Fiske Brothers Refining Company for more than 30 years, said people might wonder where the money they donate to the tornado relief is going. This is one reason he has become a go-to person for information and an advocate for making sure money donated to the tornado victims actually goes to them.
Right after the tornado destroyed his house, Blank and his family received $95 for food from the Red Cross; $450 for bedding; $330 for clothing; and $60 for shoes.
Jodie Tienvieri, communications manager at the American Red Cross Greater Toledo Area Chapter, said the nonprofit comes in after the disaster to offer short-term help like food, water and clothing. The Red Cross tries to provide the same amount of money to each family affected by the tornado, so it doesn’t matter if the victim lives in a million-dollar home or a regular house.
So far, the Red Cross has collected $278,103 in donations, spending $181,142 to aid those directly impacted, including meals, emergency shelter, cleaning supplies and grief counseling. This amount includes $45,000 transferred to community-based long-term recovery committees in Fulton, Ottawa and Wood counties.
Tienvieri said the Red Cross stopped fundraising only a few days after the tornado because it had enough money to cover its expenses.
“We are still getting money in, even though we haven’t fundraised for a month and a half,” she said.
While the Red Cross is committed to honoring donor intent, the nonprofit asks people to consider giving to the local disaster relief fund, which provides assistance for families who experience disasters, such as floods or home fires. On average, the Red Cross responds to four fires per week, and typically those families don’t have insurance, Tienvieri said.
Usually, the Red Cross doesn’t receive enough donations to cover a disaster, but because of the media attention surrounding the tornado, as well as the unusualness of such destruction, the donations continue to come in, Tienvieri said.
Michael George, chairman of the Wood County long-term recovery committee, said the Red Cross doesn’t usually help out in the long term, but because of the extra money it has received, it has donated $35,000 to his committee. George is director of United Way in Wood County. United Way is the fiscal agent for the long-term recovery committee.
George said the subcommittee of the long-term recovery committee hears requests gathered by a caseworker who meets with those affected by the tornado. The requests include rental assistance, deductible assistance, cell phone minutes, car repairs, medications, food, gasoline and temporary housing. So far, the committee has distributed about $21,000 of the $77,530 available.
Blank has worked most closely with ISOH/IMPACT in Perrysburg. The faith-based nonprofit has distributed $40,950 in Andersons gift cards, as well as $19,162 in KeyBank cards and cash. ISOH/IMPACT also donated $34,460 in food, water and relief, in addition to a mobile home.
“We are here to help to care for each other as Christ would have us care for each other,” said Lori Kazmierczak, office manager. “As long as funding allows, as long as we receive donations from community, we will continue to help.”
Kazmierczak said ISOH/IMPACT has provided assistance to 278 families in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. And people didn’t have to lose their homes to receive help. Shattered windows, ruined yards and other property damage were all reasons to ask for help, especially when the repair costs cut into household budgets.
“They are finding themselves unable to feed their families and unable to pay their bills and those families need just as much support as anyone else,” she said.
Kazmierczak said it is hard to distribute equally and need is determined on an individual basis. While $1,000 might help one family get just what they need, that might only be a dent into the problem for another family.
Blank said he has received help from so many people that he doesn’t want anyone to think this crusade is about him. He has learned through counseling that people who aren’t affected by the tornado like to give to others to feel complete. One day, he would like to give back for the help he has received.
“A lot of people are proud and don’t like handouts, but they have to understand that by taking the help, you are helping [the community] heal,” Blank said.