Coordinated local disaster relief now goes by the name Garco VOAD |

Coordinated local disaster relief now goes by the name Garco VOAD

When disaster hits, often the best aspects of human nature come to the forefront. Neighbors immediately feel a need to help their neighbors, and area organizations automatically want to reach out to lend a hand.

Until now, there was no systematic, effective way for local residents and service organizations to collectively band together and join forces.

Garco VOAD (Garfield County Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) was established earlier this summer following the Coal Seam Fire in Glenwood Springs.

Currently, the group consists of 10 service organizations capable of linking up and providing immediate disaster relief assistance and valuable contact information, while working alongside state and federal organizations.

The National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, or NVOAD, was founded after a brutal storm, Hurricane Camille, ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast in 1969, killing hundreds and costing billions in property damage.

At that time, on-site service organizations saw that better local coordination was needed so relief efforts weren’t constantly duplicated and ineffectual. Since then, NVOAD has expanded to include state and local VOADs across the country.

It was the state-wide VOAD office, based in Grand Junction, that provided local service organizations with the idea of creating a regional office to serve this area. Colorado VOAD contacted some of the more obvious relief organizations, such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army offices in Glenwood Springs, and showed these groups how they could optimize their efforts by working together.

“Forming Garco VOAD allows people faced with disaster to utilize services located right here,” explained Janelle Weidler, assistant director of LIFT-UP, a local nonprofit emergency relief group. “And just like LIFT-UP, we’re serving the area from Carbondale to Parachute.”

Garfield County Housing Authority executive director Geneva Powell co-chairs Garco VOAD with LIFT-UP executive director Perry Bell.

“In the case of the housing authority, what we can do now because of VOAD is immediately put disaster victims in the front of our waiting list,” she said. “We can also offer rental assistance based on income, and we can work as a liaison with local landlords, possibly reducing security deposits on rental property, for instance.”

And although Garco VOAD doesn’t distribute funds to disaster victims, the group can pass information to member organizations that do.

“We have several religious organizations that have come to the table with money that they deem can be used for disaster relief,” Powell said. “What we can do is connect those congregations with those in need.”

Another participating local VOAD member is Colorado West Mental Health, which can provide valuable services during a disaster – and after.

“We want to be of immediate assistance, but we also want to be there in the long-term. Many times, when people experience a disaster, they’re dealing with immediate concerns. Other issues may come up later, and we want to be there to offer counseling and other help, as is needed,” Powell said.

She said not only organizations or agencies can become members of Garco VOAD; individuals who want to be more effective during a disaster can join too.

“During the Coal Seam Fire, we had some landlords contact us offering rental properties for victims to stay,” she said. “Being able to house pets and livestock, too, is a way that local residents can help one another.”

For more information on Garco VOAD, contact Geneva Powell at the Garfield County Housing Authority at 945-0779 or the Glenwood Springs branch of the Salvation Army at 945-6976.

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