Neighbors Help, Share, and Support in Aftermath of Summer Storm

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Friday, July 15, 2016, 7:00 am
By: 
Julie Rojewski

Above: Arborist and SE Marble resident Alex Ellis contemplating the best cut to make next to avoid personal injury or damage to the car under the tree.

One week after East Lansing experienced a short—but destructivestorm that cut power to many throughout the community, some people have forgotten the chaos it created. Some families have gone grocery shopping to replace the food they had to throw away because it melted or rotted in the heat. Some residents have seen their storm debris removed, their insurance claims opened, and others have returned from summer vacations to have avoided the whole thing.

The storm itself was brief but intense, and it left many areas of East Lansing without power throughout the weekend. The lack of power in the summer heat posed some challenges—one member of the East Lansing NextDoor community group was asking if anyone with functional air conditioning could host her pugs, a dog breed whose short snouts make them suffer in hot environments. East Lansing grocer Foods for Living lost power, but generously donated food to various organizations helping people in need. Power lines landed on homes, cars, and property, and many residents are still waiting for tree crews to come and remove the debris on their properties.

But the storm also created an opportunity for some, like Jim Curran of Chesterfield Hills, “to make the best of a bad situation.” The result was an impromptu party. Said neighbor Courtney Trunk, “If our 'hood can't think of a reason to turn something like that into a party, nobody can.”

Curren explained, “We had checked to see how long it was advisable to keep food in the refrigerator and freezer, and realized that with the extensive damage in our yard, there was no way we were going to get power back before the food spoiled.” Curran and his wife, Polly Synk, decided to not let the food go to waste, and realized that others were probably in a similar situation. Curran set up their grill on the front lawn, dragged out a table and chairs, and sent a note to neighbors: If you have something to cook, bring it by. Trunk said “all the neighbors had been out, helping each other, some meeting for the first time, and it was really great!”

Curran said they ended up hosting about twenty five or so neighbors, who throughout the evening stopped by, and contributed a variety of things, including scallops, hot dogs, and pierogies. They set up coolers with beer and pop, and then “we hung out, set up a small fire pit to sit around, and once it finally cooled down enough, we all went home to try and get some sleep,” said Curran.

Across town, neighbors were brought together out of need. Senta Goertler, a resident of the Southeast Marble neighborhood, said that the storm was just another opportunity for the neighbors in her area to come together to support one another. Her area, along Timberlane Street, is particularly tight-knit, said Goertler. “We’re right on the eastern border of East Lansing, and the western border of Meridian Township, so we often get ignored by both.” When challenges—such as destructive summer storms--arise, “we usually have to figure it out ourselves,” said Goertler.

That means a particularly collaborative response for the neighbors after last week’s storms. Goertler’s husband is Alex Ellis, an arborist who owns Ellis Arbor Care, who was immediately inundated with calls from customers who wanted him to come out and assess the health of trees damaged by the storm. The sheer volume of calls forced him to triage, and he decided to prioritize the needs of friends, family, and current customers, while also helping as many others as possible. “He helped calm people, when needed,” explained Goertler. “He could explain that while it looked bad, it was not urgent, and then he could book them for a few weeks out while he spent his time on more immediate needs.” Ellis did not charge for any of the help he provided to his neighbors.

For Goertler’s corner of Southeast Marble, some of those urgent needs were close by: neighbors who could not leave their house because they were trapped by downed power lines and trees. When other nearby families came out to help, Ellis managed the community response to tell people where it would be dangerous to stand, for example to clear debris. “BWL came out and clipped the power right away, but they couldn’t fix the line until the tree was gone. So getting the tree out of the way was going to be important,” said Goertler. “Everyone helped out. Everyone, no matter their age. Children came and dragged branches to the curb. Our neighbor who had recently had back surgery carried smaller branches. We called neighbors who were out of town to let them know the status of their house.”

Other residents took advantage of opportunities to thank their neighbors more publicly. At the end of the July 11 East Lansing Board of Education meeting, School Board President Nell Kuhnmuench shared a story from her neighborhood to thank the young men who, anonymously, helped storm clean up in the Whitehills neighborhood.

She said, “I was out on Friday night in my neighborhood clearing a drain at the corner I live on because the streets were flooded. And I was out there and had gotten it somewhat cleared, but there was still quite a bit of water. And a young man walked up to me, and said ‘I’m going to help you,’ and bent over with his bare hands and started hauling leaves and stuff up out of the drain. And another young man came up and I just said, ‘who are you?’ One of them was Sam and one of them was Jack and they’re both sophomores at our high school. And they went to clearing my drain to clearing the other three drains on my corner…and they went on into the neighborhood.’ I want you to know our East Lansing kids are out there helping out in our time of need.”

As the debris from the storm gets cleaned up and the storm recedes into summer memory, many East Lansing residents can savor these memories of how, in times of unexpected need, neighbors can come together to make a bad situation better. Together. 

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