Hardwick, News

Neighbors Share Flood Disaster Successes, Suggestions

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HARDWICK — A free supper, billed as “celebrating community connections” was hosted by the Hardwick Area Neighbor to Neighbor group on Sunday, Feb. 18, at the American Legion. The gathering was for the central area of town that includes downtown, Hopkins Hill, Bridgman Hill, Mackville, and Route 14 South areas. Roughly 35 community members joined a crew of about 15 helpers who welcomed guests, served the meal, and acted as facilitators at each table.

The invitation noted that “hundreds of people stepped up to help neighbors and strangers alike after July’s flooding.” Organizers hoped to “hear from community members and enjoy a meal too,” while gathering ideas to “help the town strengthen its emergency response planning.”

The event began with Jon Lussier leading a local trivia challenge while people enjoyed cheese, crackers, and leftover sandwiches donated by Lorraine Hussey’s family after her funeral the day before. It was a fitting start to an event that was all about sharing, not wasting resources, volunteering (which was Hussey’s stock in trade during her retirement), and celebrating shared successes.

One of the questions, about the year the Hazen Trails system opened, was appropriate as the Hardwick Trails System just last year celebrated the 20th anniversary of their 2003 grand opening. Questions about the youngest “village” in Hardwick and the miles of roads maintained by Hardwick’s road crew drew lots of attention. (Answers: 82 miles of roads and Mackville, being younger than both East Hardwick and Hardwick Street.)

Chili, some with Snug Valley Farm meat, and salad with Pete’s Greens, were served, along with cornbread and desserts prepared by Hazen Union students in Reeve Basom’s “Recipe for Human Connection” class. While eating, attendees were able to visit and review three questions to be answered after the meal.   

Responding to the first question, “What were some strengths that surfaced during the flood response, or response to other emergencies/disasters in the past?” the first table felt, even though Hardwick has “so many types of people, all were Hardwickians who jumped in to help.” Other strengths were road crews, and the organizations and institutions who came together to respond. Those included Neighbor to Neighbor coordinating supplies for those in need and the Civic Standard, assembling volunteers for flood clean-up activities.

The speed at which Hazen Union School opened for those left homeless, or with homes threatened, by rising flood waters, was important as part of the town’s recovery. Buffalo Mountain Co-op served as a place for people to gather, share information, and check in with each other. Along with that, people helping cut through red tape was essential to the town’s effective flood response.

Many of the gaps noted in the local emergency response were around communication issues. Those included the need to rely on word of mouth, a lack of information about what roads were open, closed, or reopened, and having lists of key contacts available. Confusion over how to find good information about FEMA and other flood related support services made it more difficult for some.

Emergency housing and the need for emergency response personnel to have swiftwater rescue training before future flood events were mentioned.

Suggestions to help the town be even more effective in the event of a disaster came next and generated a long list of ideas.

Matching skills with needs and having an emergency response team with a skill inventory seemed to fit together. Support for organizations offering assistance in times of need, along with having ways for neighbors to connect with each other, and even connecting between neighborhoods, could help the town’s ability to respond during emergencies.

Community education about preparedness and what to expect from our natural environment as the climate changes were thought to be important.

One group wanted “more community gatherings like this” and got a hearty laugh in agreement.

Creating a comprehensive plan to include other services when contemplating a move for the fire station out of the flood zone where it is now seemed well received by those assembled.

Finally, it was suggested that having a handout to help unskilled volunteers prepare to respond with appropriate clothing and equipment would be helpful.

Helen Beattie, a key organizer of the event, was asked how ideas from this group differed from the first gathering of the Bunker Hill, Route 14 North, and West Hill areas two weeks before, on February 4. She responded that ideas shared during this gathering were in some ways similar, though also “additive, with new angles and new topics.”

Beattie told everyone that ideas collected from these gatherings would be shared with everyone who left an email address when they signed in, then also via Front Porch Forum and Facebook. They will also be shared with town government staff and elected officials.

A long list of organizations providing assistance was placed on each table. Those not yet mentioned are the American Legion, who donated their meeting room and kitchen, Buffalo Mountain Market, The United Church of Hardwick, St. Norbert Catholic Church, Tops Market, Center for an Agricultural Economy, and Childhaven International.

Before dismissing the crowd, Beattie raffled off several Hardwick Trails logoed t-shirts. She advised people to email the group at [email protected] with offers of help, or to share individual and community needs. The Neighbor to Neighbor phone at (802) 441-3301 is answered by library staff during business hours. Messages can be left at other times, but it should not be used for emergencies requiring immediate attention.

The last of the three Community Connections events will be held February 25, beginning at 4:30, again at the American Legion, for the east group of East Hardwick Village and surroundings, Center Road and Route 16 areas. Anyone who missed the earlier events is welcome to attend.

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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