Gifford panel aims to get help for residents in need
GIFFORD — A planning committee hopes to match the needs of residents of tornado-damaged Gifford with groups that want to help them.
The committee is inviting Gifford residents to a public meeting Thursday night — the day after Christmas — to help with a "needs analysis."
"There is some urgency to this," said Christina Gann, operations manager at the tornado relief site at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in the northeastern Champaign County community where approximately 70 homes were demolished by a Nov. 17 tornado. "Over the holiday break there might be a lot of families that aren't working and they might be trying to do repairs or they also might be starting to make plans.
"We wanted families to know that we're already trying to be advocates for them to see what kind of assistance we can get.
"Some of the families that were hit were those that were basically keeping their heads above water to begin with. And this was a real heartbreak for them."
Thursday's meeting will be at 7 p.m. at St. Paul's.
"One of our goals," Gann said, "is to make it so that all of those who want to stay in Gifford have it possible for them.
"There are some families who have made the decision that, based on their situation, they're not going to be returning to Gifford. But we also know that there is a larger number that have the desire, but possibly not the ability, to return to Gifford. And we want to match, if we can, the ability with the desire."
Gann said she has "no idea" how many people will attend Thursday's meeting.
"We have started what we're calling a construction committee, and that group met with Sheila Dodd of Habitat for Humanity, the director of local office Champaign branch," she said.
"We want to try and figure out how to help our residents rebuild in Gifford."
Habitat and other groups have volunteered to help and have put in requests for grant money to both repair and rebuild homes, Gann said.
"We know that those who are able to do repairs either have started them or will be starting them shortly. If we get approved for these grants, we need to get that rolling as quickly as possible," Gann said. "We're anticipating that there is a need for assistance in rebuilding some of these homes but we don't really know what level of need there is.
"That's the other reason we're having this, so we can get a read on the community. We also know we have a number of agencies — and Habitat is just one of them — that have expressed an interest in helping us to rebuild. They want to see Gifford get back on its feet. What we want to do eventually here is a little bit of matchmaking, find out what the need is, find out what agencies or individuals want to partner up with us and then put the two together. We're trying to see: What can we do to use the resources that God's making available to help them get back on their feet?"
Gann said Thursday's meeting won't provide any "definite answers but the sooner we can communicate that we're trying to work for you and we want to work with you, I think that maybe that will help people take a pause on making some final decisions until we figure out what's going on."
Families will be asked to complete a needs analysis form, Gann said.
"That will tell us whether they need a rebuild or if they're a renter," she said. "If we had someone who was a renter, we might be able to get them into a position as a homeowner now."