Budding Community Organization Offers Disaster Kits, Opportunities for Community Engagement

Maywood – Two weeks after flash floods ravaged West Suburban Cook County for the second time since 2010, Maywood residents are still coping with the aftermath. Ruby Brown’s computer and television, among other possessions, were destroyed by the flood. She’s been to K-Mart to look at replacement televisions, but they run into the hundreds of dollars. Hertestyne Watkins, a member of St. Eulalia and a volunteer with the parish’s Soup Kitchen, said that the waters took out her washer, dryer and furnace. Wonzie Johnson thought his hot water heater was gone until some fortuitous tweaking brought it back to life.

Ruby Brown with Virgil Crawford
Ruby Brown with Virgil Crawford

Residents told these stories of the flood to Virgil Crawford, a local community organizer and co-founder of Maywood Organized Voters Emerged and Engaged (MOVEE). The organization was founded in the living room of former candidate for trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross, the product of mutual concerns she and other residents had with regard to the McDonald’s restaurant currently under construction at the corner of 5th and Roosevelt.

They wanted to know how many local jobs the franchise would provide, whether or not Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money was issued for its development and what ways they could ensure that youth in the community were given first priority in the hiring process. During the election, MOVEE arranged an open community meeting at the Quinn Center to disseminate information and feel the pulse of the citizenry with respect to the new development. The meeting was attended by about 20 residents, including Clerk-elect Viola Mims, Mayor-elect Edwenna Perkins, candidate for trustee Ealey and candidate for park district commission Joe Ratley. There, they handed out pre-applications for job-seekers to fill out. The organization then presented the pre-applications to McDonald’s for early consideration.

And then the flood. The day the waters rose, MOVEE held its second official meeting in a classroom at the Quinn Community Center. It was attended by about ten people, Mrs. Ealey-Cross and Mr. Crawford included. Those who showed up looked worn from day-long efforts moving sandbags, meeting with emergency response officials and checking on senior citizens. Mrs. Ealey-Cross herself had been up since at least 5:00 in the morning. The flood inspired MOVEE’s second big organizing effort.

Hertestyne Watkins with Virgil Crawford
Hertestyne Watkins with Virgil Crawford

“With those hot water heaters, you have to take that assembly out and then depressurize those lines. That’s when you get the water out and make sure it’s free-flowing,” Virgil Crawford told Mr. Johnson. Crawford was seated in a hallway, in front of one of St. Eulalia’s side entrances. A partnership with the Quinn Community Center allowed MOVEE to acquire from the Salvation Army several dozen flood relief cleanup kits to distribute to affected residents. The kits include a mop, a bottle of water, gloves and cleaning solution, among other supplies.

Virgil Crawford
Virgil Crawford

Although the flood waters have receded for the most part, the kits are still in high demand. A thin stream of people from Maywood, Broadview, Bellwood and even Chicago flowed into the Center to receive the kits. The only thing Crawford asked from them in return was their contact information, so that they’d be informed about MOVEE’s future endeavors and perhaps inspired to get engaged in community issues themselves. “This community needs citizens to become more active in it,” said Crawford.

Crawford has been in communication with the Village’s Department of Public Works, which referred residents to MOVEE’s efforts once the Village’s shipment of kits ran out. Many of those who showed up to the Center had been informed about the kit giveaway either through word-of-mouth or through contacting their respective municipalities. One Bellwood man had showed up after standing in line for a kit to no avail.

Along with their stories of flooding, people also brought their concerns about the government’s responsiveness. Ms. Watkins said she hadn’t heard much from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) until one of the agency’s trucks pulled up in front of the home of a friend who lives on her block.

“FEMA came this morning. She [her friend] said they came to her door and asked her did she get water in her basement and what she lost. She told them and they said okay. She asked if they wanted to come in and see it and they told her no. It was a different process from last time, when they would call you and make an appointment […] The last time, [a] guy came in and entered everything into the computer, but if they just stood outside and asked a question then that’s kind of iffy.”

Mr. Crawford told her that she had just witnessed what’s called a scattered site evaluation. “They’re spotting,” he said. Olivia Brown, who works in the Village of Maywood’s Public Works Department, verified what Crawford said. “A FEMA representative was here, but they haven’t declared this a disaster area yet. They were here a few days ago [and] they were in town today doing spot assessments.”

A representative with FEMA said that the agency expects that the President will declare Maywood and other affected suburbs a disaster area by this weekend. “Anytime they say there is a disaster in the area and they’re getting ready to declare it they have to go in and assess the area,” she said. “They have to look at several places and then they send their report in to the President [once the Governor has declared].”

What Ms. Watkins most likely witnessed was the pre-inspection process that’s required before the declaration. “People should wait for the [Federal] disaster to be declared first,” the FEMA representative said,  before they file their claims. In the meantime, if residents have any concerns or questions regarding their status they can contact their local emergency management agency, which is typically listed in the emergency notification section in the Yellow Pages, or call the flood disaster hotline at 1-800-525-0321.

A pile of mops to be distributed
A pile of mops inside of a classroom at St. Eulalia

Much closer to the ground, MOVEE is in the process of planning a community forum to update residents on flood relief efforts. “There are too many questions that citizens have regarding their uncertainty and fear that assistance may not be forthcoming for […] Maywood and that’s unacceptable given how heavy we were impacted by this flood and how broad it was,” said Crawford. “People deserve to know that their government is working for them and know where that process is. So, we’re going to do our due diligence to bring that information to the community.”

To inquire about MOVEE’s future meeting dates and endeavors, please call (630) 841-4877. MOVEE also plans on passing out kits at the Quinn Community Center tomorrow from 12pm t0 5pm. Seniors may make pickup arrangements over the phone.

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