Volunteers, homeowners join forces to continue storm cleanup

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Nearly 250 volunteers last week assisted homeowners who live on the block of 30th and James Avenue North in the effort to restore their homes to pre-tornado condition. The volunteers were Pohlad company workers, and the project was funded by the Pohlad Family Foundation.

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Homeowner Dawn Shannon suffered “severe water damage” in the basement of her home, which she bought a couple of years ago, as well as damage to her garage and backyard fence from the storm. She had begun to do some of the repairs herself, especially on the outside walls of her house to better divert water away from the structure.

The repairs would have cost her at least $1,000 to complete, said Shannon, who sought out bids from local contractors. “I broke the concrete myself,” she says. “I removed it myself bit by bit, day by day.”

Last week, Shannon stood proudly next to the completed project, which she estimated would have taken “a year or a year and a half” to do, but instead it took only a couple of days to finish with the help of the volunteers. “I’m very thankful for the work that has been done,” said Shannon.

Brian Jones, who lives directly across the street from Shannon, had some roof damage to his home. “A couple of trees fell over, and I had about six broken windows. I [also] got water damage in the house,” he reported. Last week, thanks to the volunteers, he was watering freshly planted sod in his front yard.

Foundation spokeswoman Joni Bonnell told the MSR that the Pohlad Company annually holds an employee release day to volunteer in the community, mostly around the city’s North Side. “They have been involved in many different efforts up on the North Side,” Bonnell said, adding that this year’s Sept. 30-Oct. 1 volunteer event focused on areas affected by the May tornado.

“The landscaping is a total bonus,” said Shannon as several Pohlad volunteers were busy planting new shrubbery on her front yard. “I wasn’t expecting it. And they removed all of the [old] concrete.”

“They put in a sidewalk for us,” added Jones.

Another 30-40 students from the nearby Minnesota Internship Center also helped, noted teacher Melinda Melin. The foundation earlier this summer sent out information to five areas that got hit by the late spring storm: McKinley, Webber-Camden, Folwell, Willard-Hay and Jordan.

“We’re focusing on the five neighborhoods that are bordering Lowry,” continued Bonnell. “Three of these communities — Folwell, Webber-Camden and Jordan — came through” with requests for assistance.

“My neighbor Darin [McGowan] and I went to a Jordan Association neighborhood meeting, and that’s where we found out about the project,” recalled Shannon. “I didn’t even know if that could be done, but Joni [Bonnell] came out and asked if I wanted my sidewalk and steps done. It was a sigh of relief.”

She credits McGowan for spearheading the necessary paperwork to get consideration by the Pohlad group.

“We went with their suggestions and started working with the individual block captains,” said Bonnell, who coordinated last week’s effort. As a result, at least 33 individual homes got “what they need” in terms of repairs. The only stipulation was that someone who lives in the home — the homeowner, a family member or a selected representative — be present and, if possible, help out. The foundation funded the entire project.

Though it wasn’t intended, the May tornado did more than damage homes. Shannon and McGowan both believe it created a stronger sense of community.

“There were a few of us who communicated on a regular basis” before the storm, McGowan recalled.

“We were talking about forming a neighborhood watch and a block club.”

“There were a couple of neighbors that I had become very acquainted with before the storm,” said Shannon, who moved onto the block a couple of years ago. However, the twister virtually turned everything around.

“The day of the storm,” continued McGowan, “we all got together to clean the street and helped each other with basic needs. I think that forged a lot of the relationships that you are seeing here today.”

“[It] brought us all together,” said Jones.

Shannon suggested that perhaps the disaster brought with it a hidden blessing. “After the storm, there was more of a unity… It has now built a sense of responsibility to come together as neighbors and really get involved with our neighborhood association. It has uplifted our spirits. My motto has been, ‘If we don’t care, who will care?’”

“It’s been unbelievable [seeing] the excitement” from the neighbors, said Bonnell, adding that the volunteers plan to return in a couple of weeks to complete several painting projects in the area.

Shannon said that despite last week’s effort, her block and many others surrounding it are still not back to pre-tornado status. “There should be a priority as a city to remove the tarps [off damaged roofs] before the winter comes,” she pointed out. “That would help a lot of residents.”

“My belief is that if each one of us doesn’t take care of or look out for each other’s property, all of our properties’ value suffers,” said McGowan. “It’s not enough just to take care of your own property — we have to be concerned with our neighbors’ property as well, or we all suffer.

“We are a working-class community. We do care.”