New foundation manages donations sent to city

Marlo Guetersloh
Volunteers lay sod at Harry LaHood Park this summer as part of a soil remediation project that received funding from the Washington Illinois Area Foundation and Tornado Recovery Fund. The fund was created from the $1.4 million donations the city received after the Nov. 17 tornado.

Glass, wood, nails and other small, sharp debris from the Nov. 17 tornado littered Harry LaHood Park and made the playground unusable. 

The Washington park is near to the path the EF-4 tornado took as it ripped through the city last year. 

After countless volunteer hours and $60,000 worth of dirt and sod, the park will soon be ready for children. 

Although the Washington Park District was able to muster volunteers, there was no money in its budget for the sod and dirt. 

That was paid for through a grant from the Washington Illinois Area Foundation and Tornado Fund.

“I couldn’t think of a better place and a better way to help in the rebuilding than by helping the park district with LaHood park,” said Andrew Rinehart, foundation board president. 

Harry LaHood Park is one example of where the foundation has helped bridge the gap between funds available and funds 

needed to help in Washington’s rebuilding.

The foundation is a non-profit organization set up by the city of Washington to oversee the use of the $1.4 million the city received in donations following the tornado in 2013. 

City Administrator Tim Gleason said the donations that poured into the city’s account were not meant by the donors for the city to use as an emergency fund, but to help in the recovery and rebuilding of the community. 

“This money does not belong to the city and the city doesn’t determine how it is spent,” Gleason said. “It’s a separate panel that distributes the money.”

Eight community members, including Rinehart, are on the foundation board. Other members are John Redlingshafer, Michelle Sullivan, Mark Weston, Ken Holford, Matt Moehle, Roger Holzhauer and Mayor Gary Manier. 

Primarily, the board works with the Long Term Recovery Center to find needs that can’t be filled through other programs that can help tornado victims. 

So far the spending has been slow. 

Rinehart said the current balance of donations totals more than $1.3 million. 

“For the most part we are in a wait-and-see mode,” Rinehart said. “The community is in the rebuilding phase and we want to see where we can best use that money to further the community’s rebuilding effort.”

Rinehart said the foundation’s charitable status prevents it from simply writing checks to people. 

He added that by working with the recovery center the foundation can help solve problems that people, insurance companies and disaster relief agencies have not thought about. 

“There are issues out there that no one has thought about where we can make a big difference in helping directly with the rebuilding,” Rinehart said. 

One possible project the foundation has identified with the help of the recovery center is soil remediation. Many yards in Washington have been rendered unsafe by small debris, much like Harry LaHood Park.

For some homeowners, insurance policies have covered the replacement of soil and grass. However, Rinehart said there are a number of cases under review by the recovery center where homeowners are left footing the bill for fixing their yards. 

Those projects can cost between $3,000 and $10,000, Rinehart said. Currently, the recovery center has identified 60 cases where there are no insurance funds or otherwise for yards.

“Working with the Long Term Recovery Center has been a huge benefit for us, because we’ve been advised that our non-profit (501 c3) status we can’t give funds out directly and anything we do pay for has to be vetted,” Rinehart said. “The recovery center has been a great resource for us to work with because they make sure every case that comes to us is thoroughly checked out.”

Rinehart said the foundation’s long-term goal — long after the tornado donations are spent — is to continue as a community fund that helps pay for Washington area projects when other fund sources come up short. 

“It’s always been in the back of our minds on the foundation board that we could,” Rinehart said. “But that’s something for us to think about later. Right now, we are focused on how we can best use this money to help rebuild after the tornado.”