From the Flood, Tales of Hope

LaVerne and Norberto Againeses, along with Little Man, outside their restored home.

The Kalamazoo Flood Relief Fund raised more than $375,000 to help victims of the historic 2018 flood.

by Andrea Opalewski, Guest Blogger

As we enjoy the summer sunshine and warmer temperatures, it’s hard to believe that a historic flood deluged Kalamazoo a little more than five months ago. But for many people, it’s like it was yesterday.

The flood caused an estimated $2.5 million in damage. In response, United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation started the Kalamazoo Flood Relief Fund, with businesses, foundations and individual donors raising $375,497. Here are tales of hope from a devastating flood.

Cynthia Denard
For Cynthia Denard, her two dogs and bird, it was a long 16 days without electricity. No heat. No water. Things that many of us take for granted.

“I’m pretty sure I got frostbite. I can’t feel the tips of my fingers sometimes,” said Denard.

Eventually, her apartment building was condemned, leaving Cynthia without a place to go.

The Kalamazoo Flood Relief Fund changed her plight. The fund provided her with temporary shelter at a local motel for a month—including her dogs and bird, Joe.

“Joe was not a fan at first since he had to be a cage, but he got used to it. It was warm and no candles needed,” she laughed.

The fund also covered moving costs, while local support groups helped Cynthia and her pets find a new place to call home.

“I don’t know where I’d be without them. I’d be out on the street I’m sure,” she said. One volunteer in particular promised, in words she remembers clearly, “I’m not going to put you on a shelf.”

For that, Cynthia Denard is grateful.

Norberto and LaVerne Againeses
The Againeses had never seen flooding this bad on McCormick Street. Stranded for a week, the Againeses’ basement was underwater, ruining their furnace and water heater and weakening the home’s supports.

“We lost everything down there,” Norberto said. “We were just in a shell without heat, no hot water, no anything.”

After failed efforts to have volunteers remove debris and muck, township officials finally had to condemn the Againeses’ home. The couple had no place to go. Fortunately, the Kalamazoo Flood Relief Fund helped them relocate to a motel—one friendly to pets so their dog, Little Man, had a place to go—while relief agencies coordinated their work. With a few days of intensive work, their home was restored to a safe, livable condition.

“They were one of the first to help with our situation,” Norberto said about the Fund’s partners. The Againeses now have new structural supports, an elevated furnace, a water heater with the heating element above the floor, and a sump pump for any future flooding.

“It was just wonderful. They got us back into our house. It’s like we’d never been away,” said Norberto.

To the people who supported the Fund, Norberto and LaVerne have a message: “You are a godsend. We were blessed to be part of your giving.“

Joint Effort to Help

The greater Kalamazoo community rallied to help residents impacted by historic flooding earlier this year, raising $375,497 for a joint relief fund. Thus far, the fund has helped 81 households with relief efforts.

“The generous response by our community gave people help, hope and ultimately restored their homes,” said Chris Sargent, President and CEO of United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.

“It’s deeply inspiring to see yet another demonstration of people coming together to help those in need. It’s a hallmark of our community,” added Carrie Pickett-Erway, President and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation started the Kalamazoo Flood Relief Fund together with lead contributions of $10,000 each. The rest came from generous individuals, businesses and other organizations—the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Kalamazoo Rotary Club, Women Who Care, and many more. In all cases, 100 percent of donations went to flood recovery.

Fund dollars were directed to local agencies working with individuals and families who need help in the wake of the flood.

Gryphon Place 2-1-1 managed hundreds of requests for assistance. Among the needs were water removal; replacing damaged furnaces and water heaters; mold remediation; debris removal; utility assistance; replacing appliances, furniture and clothing; and providing hotel vouchers for families who need shelter while their homes were repaired.