Tropical Storm Irene may have seemed like a nonevent in some places, but not here in Vermont. We’re seeing firsthand the devastation left by this disaster, which is the worst flooding here since 1927. More than 160 roads were impassable, and “you can’t get there from here” was heard all across the state. Thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged, and mobile home parks were obliterated. But beyond the big story, the little stories are perhaps most heartbreaking.
The pizza shop in Brandon floated down the street. The 140-year-old Bartonsville covered bridge was swept away. The ski lodge at Killington looks like kindling. But in the midst of it all, Vermonters are helping each other. Even in this crisis, people in some of the worst hit areas talk of acts of generosity and warmth.
This Labor Day, thousands of Vermonters grabbed their boots and shovels and donated their weekend to relief efforts. The outpouring of support, whether with shovels or checkbooks, is a reminder of the resilience of small towns. Here at the Vermont Community Foundation, we’re honoring that tradition by helping people give to rebuild the state they love.
In addition to working with our colleagues at the Red Cross, United Way, and FEMA; directing donors to the state’s long-term relief organizations; and partnering with philanthropic-minded groups such as the band Phish and retailer Orvis, we’ve established two new funds at the foundation that address recovery in the farming and nonprofit communities.
Vermont has been a leader in advancing local and sustainable agriculture, an important component of our state’s communities. But many of Vermont’s farmers lost everything after Irene. The Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund will provide grants directly to farms that sustained losses from Irene.
The Special and Urgent Needs Fund: Irene Recovery will support nonprofit organizations that lost facilities and materials at a time when their services were needed most. Not only is Vermont’s nonprofit sector particularly large-it makes up 18 percent of our state’s gross product-it also supports our communities and basic infrastructure.
We hope these two funds, in conjunction with the rest of the relief work going on around Vermont, will help the hard-hit communities in our state begin to rebuild. If you want to help, my recommendation is simple: Visit Vermont. Plan a trip to view the fall foliage or ski with your family. You’ll be helping small farms and businesses that need help now more than ever.
Stuart Comstock-Gay is president and CEO of Vermont Community Foundation.