by Brendan Buckley, Community Journalist
HARDWICK — On Sunday, Feb. 4, about 50 citizens of Hardwick gathered for good food and conversation at the American Legion. The occasion was the first of three planned gatherings, organized by Hardwick Area Neighbor to Neighbor, in partnership with the town, to bring residents together to share their ideas around the town’s response to the July flood. The intent is that the three events (the next two are scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 18, and Sunday, Feb. 25) create an environment for neighborhood reunions and fruitful discussion and reflection as the town works towards the creation of a more comprehensive Local Emergency Management Plan (LEMP).
The evening began at 4:30 p.m., with cheese and crackers, and was followed by a meal of chili (with or without meat), salad and cornbread. Dessert was brownies (regular and gluten-free). Iced tea and lemonade were on tap. Before the main meal was served, Town Manager David Upson led attendees through a multiple-choice trivia quiz created by Wiz Dow of the Hardwick Historical Society. She included a twist in the final question: all three choices were correct!
Following the meal, folks gathered into four groups, each with a moderator, to share thoughts about the July disaster. Discussion was prompted by a series of three questions that addressed the town’s strengths, the gaps in emergency coverage, and lastly asked for suggestions in creating a more effective response in the future.
It should come as no surprise that, among the strengths identified, neighborliness, volunteerism and generosity (of spirit, labor, and equipment) leapt to the fore. Even in our small town, people were surprised to see neighbors they had never met show up to help, further reinforcing their sense of community connection. Also, as isolated as we were by washed-out roads in the immediate aftermath of the flood, people expressed their gratitude for the quick work of the town road crew in restoring key connectors. Thanks were expressed for the town’s response in opening up Hazen Union as a shelter. Civic Standard participated in opening up the shelter, in helping establish a supply center that provided residents with everything from mops to dehumidifiers, and in organizing the early rounds of volunteers.
Among the gaps identified within the scope of town management, many pointed to communication. Ideally the town website will provide regular updates as events unfold, especially around road conditions. In meetings with a citizen group working to create a more comprehensive LEMP, Upson has identified the importance of having key community organizations at the Command Center to better coordinate services on a daily basis.
Upson clarified that an emergency alert email system already exists for the town and encouraged widespread dissemination of the following sign-up process for Hardwick residents: go to the town website (hardwickvt.gov) and click on a blue box to sign up for “alert notification.” This will send you to a brief survey.
These observations led directly to thoughts that people included in their suggestions. The concept of centralizing the town’s effort, starting with an identified “point person”, and including a communication hub (perhaps a phone tree). Similarly, the organizing of volunteers and the maintenance of a comprehensive list of contractors and others with specific skills to help would add to a better directed and capable response.
Some attendees expressed frustration with both the state and federal response. Most of that is obviously beyond the control of our town management, but hopefully we have learned from our July experience and will be better equipped to untangle the red tape next time.
In putting on this series of community gatherings Hardwick Area Neighbor To Neighbor received much in the way of volunteer goods and services. The American Legion generously donated the use of its facility, paving the way for a lively communal meal. Jasper Hill Farm donated cheese for snacks and to shred onto the chili. Snug Valley farm donated all the ground beef. Tops Market donated a $50 gift card. Salad included donations from Pete’s Greens, Buffalo Mountain Market and the Center for an Agricultural Economy. Hazen Union students baked the cornbread and the brownies. The United Church of Hardwick (UCH), St. Norbert’s Catholic Church, The Center for an Agricultural Economy and Childhaven International all combined to provide cookware, plates, utensils and cups. Much of the food prep took place at the UCH. About 20 people donated time to prep the Legion dining room, to serve the meal and to clean up afterwards. Many thanks to all.
The February 18 occasion will focus on the neighborhoods of central Hardwick (downtown, Hopkins Hill, Bridgman Hill, Mackville and Route 14 South). The February 25th gathering will focus on the East Hardwick area. These events are not exclusive to those neighborhoods: all are welcome.