FEMA rejection not going over well

FEMA rejection not going over well

But $100,000 grant from Chicago foundation gives villagers a reason to cheer

GIFFORD — FEMA's denial of public assistance funding for tornado-damaged Illinois communities did not go over well at a community meeting Tuesday night in Gifford.

What's next for Gifford? Ask Tom Kacich here.

"It's wrong. And I would ask each and every one of you to think about that," said Tony McLain, president of the Gifford State Bank and a member of the local volunteer committee that is helping organize Gifford's recovery from a Nov. 17 tornado. "Next time you talk to a politician at the county level or the state level or the federal level, tell him it's wrong what happened here.

"It's not only wrong what happened here, it's wrong what happened in these other communities. So let's take this opportunity to make a difference. We have pulled up our bootstraps and made a difference in this community. So let's go out there and do it for these other communities."

Dustin Ehler, a member of the Gifford Village Board, said the denial — actually a rejection of Illinois' appeal of an earlier FEMA decision — would make things difficult for the village board.

"All I'd ask is that you be patient with the rest of the board," he told the audience. "We're going to be forced to make a lot of decisions, based on where we spend our money, because we're not going to have enough money to pay for everything."

Ehler said later that the village has incurred $200,000 to $250,000 in expenses that it had hoped to have covered with the FEMA grant. That includes debris removal, replacement of street and traffic signs, and replacement of damaged streets and sidewalks.

"How can you not be upset?" Ehler said. "The thing is that our number one objective is to get the village infrastructure back to pre-tornado state and make it as good or better than it was before."

On the brighter side, McLain told about 100 people at a meeting at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, he received word Tuesday afternoon that Gifford's relief fund had received a $100,000 grant from the Robert McCormick Foundation in Chicago.

That announcement brought sustained applause.

Also at Tuesday's community meeting, Gifford's storm survivors were told:

— Free hot lunches will again be served to families and work volunteers at the church Mondays through Saturdays, beginning March 24.

"We certainly do not want our workers to go hungry. We have a lot of work ahead of us this spring and summer," said Christina Gann, the project manager at St. Paul's.

— The Gifford Celebration, an annual festival, will be held June 28.

— A "needs assessment" survey, performed by volunteers from outside Gifford, will be conducted from Thursday through Sunday at the church. Tornado victims are asked to call 898-8403 to make an appointment to meet with the volunteers.

"We cannot ask all of the outside organizations or the national organizations to come and help us until we know what kind of help we actually need," Gann said. "You can share what your life was like prior to the tornado, what you lost in the storm, what your insurance has provided and what it's going to take for you to get back to what you call the new normal."

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