I’m writing this on a sunny Sunday afternoon from the comforts of our Burlington office. I have a warm cup of coffee in my favorite mug, and my eyes are scanning from my computer screen to the NFL football, and out over the lake and downtown Burlington. Our office mascot is curled up on our couch, soaking up the September sun.
Saturday, I was in Plymouth and Jamaica, Weathersfield and Cavendish, Reading and Ludlow. The juxtaposition of where I am right now, and the absolute devastation I saw yesterday is something I will never forget.
Plymouth and Jamaica are a mess, indistinguishable from the idyllic New England towns they once were. The people there are tired, and, while they’ve had donations a-plenty from surrounding towns, they have not enjoyed the same over-whelming volunteer support as towns in the more Northern counties. They have been doing it all themselves.
And while Vermonters are proud and sometimes reluctant to ask for help, our arrival was met with tearful thanks, and an emotional out-pouring that is hard to capture in words. I spoke with one woman in Plymouth who has been holding the town together with her two hands. They’ve set up a volunteer station and donation storehouse in the two-room elementary school. But while supplies have been generously given, they are lacking hands to clear debris, to fix houses that are salvageable, and to help clear the ruined homes that have been pushed off their foundations and into the road.
When I told our new friend in Plymouth about the support we hoped we could get her, she teared up as she remarked how over-whelming people’s generosity has been. And it has been. Every day we read emails from people who have been helped, and from people who have been out there getting their hands dirty. It is a daily struggle to keep that lump in your throat down. We are beyond grateful for this huge out-pouring.
At the same time, after traveling all day to towns we haven’t seen in the headlines, I was beyond upset to see the traffic to our site flagging. We hope it is because people are out volunteering; we fear it is because people tend to forget about natural disasters after they have faded from the headlines. We remain focused on getting help to those in need, and on coordinating volunteer efforts across the state and will do so until volunteer help is no longer needed. But we can only do so much: it is up to you to take the information and turn it to the good-will we have come to expect from people across the state.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m writing this on the ten year anniversary of 9/11. As I watch tributes and read tweets about that national tragedy, it makes me think of the support we have seen across the state. Vermont is the embodiment of everything that is great about this country. We are a state of individuals, yet when we are called upon to strengthen our communities, we respond in over-whelming numbers, offering donations that make the word ‘generous’ seem inadequate.
We must not forget the task at hand. As media coverage fades, let’s not forget that winter in Vermont comes quickly, and that while we are comfortable in our homes and offices, there are communities who have lost everything and are still reeling. We must continue our efforts to insure that people have walls and roofs above them by the time the ground freezes and the nights turn cold.
I’m writing now to call people across the state to renewed action. We have at most three months before winter wonderland. While the memory of Irene fades, let’s not forget that rebuilding our communities takes months. We owe it to ourselves and our neighbors to live up to this state’s great reputation.
Over the next few weeks, we will be organizing large efforts for towns most in need. It is our hope that we can look back in December on a stretch of volunteering and giving that is worthy of the Vermont we all love. We look to you to insure that this rebuilding effort was no fad, but a movement representing the best of what we are as a community.
Now let’s get to work!
Matt and the VT Response team