When the tornado hit the Twin Cities May 22, many outside of the affected areas watched in horror as the news stories and Twitter updates followed the devastation in North Minneapolis. Some felt compelled to help, even if they weren’t connected to a nonprofit or a church on the North Side. Among the champion volunteers: information expert Peter Kerre, Somali relief organizer Nimco Ahmed, and the Pet Project’s Kim Carrier.
The Information Expert
Peter Kerre (DJ XPECT) was in his New York apartment when his sister called from Minneapolis to tell him that a tornado was going down. “Oh Damn, damn, damn,” is what he thought to himself. A previous resident of Minneapolis, he has many friends on the North Side.
After he heard the new, Kerre just snapped. He decided to put something together where people could centralize information. He comes from an information security background, and it was an instant reaction. “I just stepped into that mode,” he said.
He quickly set up a Facebook group, called North Minneapolis Post Tornado Watch. And he started posting all of the links that he could find—videos, pictures, news, updates, ways for people to get help, and ways for people to volunteer.
As a DJ and nightclub promoter, Kerre had over 4,000 Facebook friends, so it wasn’t hard to get a lot of people to join the page initially, and then “word just went around”. The FB page became a place where people could share information.
Then Kerre began creating a document, with all the resources available, and he decided to create a Google site, so that he could update it in real time. “I didn’t really expect this page to be the main source of information for the whole city,” he said, but that’s what it has become.
When the word spread about Kerre’s Facebook page and Google site, there was a bit of confusion. What shook him up the most was an email from the Minneapolis Police, demanding that he identify himself. Some other emails from city officials seemed confrontational. Initially, he was a bit confrontational back. “It’s none of your business who I am,” he said.
“I’m a nobody,” he said to the people inquiring about his identity. In a way it was true, but even though Kerre wasn’t connected to an official organization, his efforts have effectively provided information to people who need it.
“There were two things that worked in my favor,” he said. “The first is that I come from an information security background. I even went through FEMA-sanctioned cybersecurity training. The other is that for about 12 years I was a promoter in the Twin Cities. I promoted night clubs and music concerts.” Kerre contributed to building up the Raggae scene in the Twin Cities.
The website has been an effective way to get information out to people, connecting resources and finding help for people who need it.
“We’ve become the new 911 hotline,” Kerre said. “We are getting stuff done fast.” For example, a woman with an eight-week old baby and a four-year old child needed help finding a place to stay. The Facebook page facilitated getting Hennepin County to help her within a couple of hours of her need, and the next day someone from the county had contacted her to provide her housing for after Sunday.
“The first responders are overwhelmed,” Kerre said. “There is so much information still coming.”
Tapping into the Somali Community
Nimco Ahmed, a Somali-Minnesotan, also wanted to help, but she didn’t want to be in the way or a burden to the work that was being done in North Minneapolis. On Monday, when she called around trying to find a place to volunteer, many organizations said they were full to capacity already.
Still, she knew there must be something she could do to be of use. She also knew that Somali people are very generous, but they have to be asked. So she and a group of friends took it upon themselves to reach out to Somali individuals and businesses and gather donations to distribute to the Masjid An-Nur, and other places in need in Minneapolis
She got in contact with the mother of the Imam and Masjid An-Nur, asking what was needed. Then, she and her friends have begun asking for donations from restaurants.
She’s gotten donations from Safari, Fagal, Sahara Restaurant, Hamvi Grocery, Boolaai, Ali’s Catering, Marina’s Grill and Deli, Holy Land, Afro Deli, Abraham Restaurant, Urobo Resaurant, Cairo Grill, Karmel Restaurant, Dur Dur bakery and Afriik Grocery. They’ve also gotten cash donations from Somali businesses.
Because Ahmed works during the day, she’s been doing all of her phone calling in the evening, with her friends volunteering to pick up the food and distributing it during the day.
Ahmed found that her effort was something that she could do because she had so many contacts in the Somali community, and it was much more effective than going to volunteer on the ground, where she would have had to be taught about what to do. “What I was doing was safe and was making a huge difference,” she said. “I didn’t want to burden anyone, but I wanted to help.”
Ahmed has also been out door knocking, passing out city pamphlets that give resources to people on the ground.
Saving the pets
Kim Carrier runs The Pet Project, a nonprofit that helps people keep their pets by providing pet food and basic supplies to those who are struggling. She runs The Pet Project in her spare time when not doing her job as a hair stylist.
During the last week, she’s been working 16 hours a day on the North Side handing out supplies to pet owners. “The need has been pretty overwhelming,” Carrier said. “I’ve never done any disaster relief type stuff before.”
On Tuesday morning, Carrier along with 30 volunteers headed over to North Minneapolis. She connected with other groups concerned about animals after the tornado, including a couple of people who started a North Minneapolis Pets Facebook page.
The Pet Project set up a table at Farview Park. Carrier said she went to the park and pretty much told the woman staff member that she was setting up a table. They began volunteering on Tuesday, and after seeing the need, began reducing the amount of food they gave out so they could help more people. They also found there was a need not just for food, but for supplies. Many people she found didn’t have leashes or bowls. One man had his dog shut up in his room because he didn’t have a leash to take him out. Carrier said they served between 200-300 pet owners last week.
Pet Project has been getting a lot of community support from rescue organizations, but Carrier found that her group has been the main pet food supplier in the disaster relief effort. Shiloh Temple, she said, is also giving pet food.
“The people in North Minneapolis have been amazing,” she said. “I really admire the spirit over there—it’s been such an amazing experience. Now I’m determined to get them the help they need because I love them now.”
Organization, Communication and Strategic Planning
Check back later this week for our story about how Minneapolis fared in coordinating efforts between government, non-profit groups and religious organizations. If you would like to contribute to this story, email email@example.com