Non-profit opens in Washington Plaza to help people after disasters

Marlo Guetersloh TimesNewspapers
East Peoria Mayor Dave Mingus speaks during the ribbon cutting ceremony at Tri-County Long Term Recovery Center July 18.

Maybe it’s help with cleaning debris out of a yard or help making the payment on an insurance deductible, whatever the need is, the Tri-County Long Term Recovery has been created as a one-stop-shop for people trying to get back to normal after a tornado or other disaster. 

The not-for-profit designed to help coordinate disaster assistance in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties officially opened its doors Friday at 18 Washington Plaza, formerly the Sunnyland Plaza.

Central Illinois crossed the eight-month mark since the tornadoes on Nov. 17, 2013, ripped through Pekin, East Peoria and Washington. 

“Today, we enter a new phase of the recovery,” said Jim Fassino, chairman of LTR. “New needs come up every day. Now we have a place to address them as simply as possible.”

Caseworkers at LTR are available to help those affected by the tornadoes by coordinating victim needs with available help from local agencies such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army or local churches and businesses.

“We are better together as we work to provide the help people need to return to their pre-disaster status,” said Salvation Army Capt. Katherine Clausell.

The idea for a long-term recovery center actually began months before the November tornadoes.

The Community Foundation of Central Illinois considered creating the office after the record flooding along the Illinois River in April 2013, said Mark Roberts from CFCI.

The recovery center was created to serve the three counties whenever disaster strikes, Roberts said. At times, the center will go dormant but will be reactivated when needed.

The goal organizers say is to avoid duplication of recovery efforts and to make it easier for people who need help whether it is the first day or several months after. 

While rebuilding in Washington, East Peoria and Pekin are continuing, Clausell said the recovery will take many more months. 

“There are still individuals out there who don’t know about assistance or because they received an insurance settlement, they don’t get help,” Clausell said. “While we don’t duplicate what insurance does, we know there are gaps that we can help fill.”

LTR caseworkers can review a person’s situation and find ways to help, Clausell added. 

Funding for the recovery center is primarily funded through a $500,000 grant from The Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Donations from the Caterpillar foundation helped provide the office space and equipment. 

And Roberts said donations such as the $21.60 sent by kindergartners from a suburban Chicago school after the tornadoes also help with the recovery center’s mission. 

That donation, Roberts said, proves people of all ages are willing to help in a crisis. 

East Peoria Mayor Dave Mingus said the recovery center ensures that the Tri-county area is ready for the next disaster not if it happens, but when. 

Pekin Mayor Laurie Barra said out of this disaster residents and cities alike have discovered problems and needs never anticipated. “And there are still more obstacles (in this recovery) that we have not encountered or thought about,” Barra said. 

Washington Mayor Gary Manier said the community would not have survived without its churches which have played a vital role in coordinating volunteers. 

Washington was hardest hit by the November tornadoes with more than 1,000 houses leveled or heavily damaged.