Going the Extra Mile to Help Victims Cope with Severe Flood

Sitting in a makeshift office with half a dozen advertising, marketing and media professionals, Fred Moore, president of Midland Savings Bank, Des Moines, peered over his glasses and quietly announced, "Nobody leaves this room until we have a plan to help the community."

It had been a week since the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers jumped their banks and flooded Iowa's capital city in the early hours of July 11.

Within 72 hours of the flood, Midland and its financial and real estate affiliates, known as the Central Companies, announced a package of special services called ONE-CALL Recovery Assistance. Like many other lenders, this included special below-market rate loans, extended grace periods, loan extensions, coverage of checks for customers whose direct deposits and payroll checks were delayed by the flood, longer hours at several branches and waiving penalties on the early withdrawal of certificates of deposit.

|Meaningful' Help

Eventually more than 65 low-interest loans totaling $206,000 were made, but Moore insisted that product-based offerings weren't enough.

"So we literally locked our creative people in a room and told them to come up with an idea. Then we empowered them with the support they needed to get the job done right."

The brainstorming session gave birth to the REAL HELP campaign. Instead of being all things to all people, Midland and the Central Companies would do as much as they could for one badly damaged neighborhood.

The Central Companies leased 3,800 square feet in a former auto-parts building in the heart of the neighborhood, set up a dozen telephone lines and opened the Neighborhood Recovery Center on July 21. Working with the Red Cross and the United Way, several hundred volunteers from Midland and the Central Companies canvassed the 825 homes in the neighborhood. Moore and his boss, Central Life Assurance Co. President Roger Brooks, also went door to door asking residents what kind of help they had received and what they needed.

Limited Success

"We found that while churches and the Red Cross and others were helping, they weren't getting to everyone," Moore said. "Some people weren't sure where to go for federal disaster assistance, or what kind of documentation they should have. Many flood victims needed immediate help getting cleaning supplies, diapers food and clothes."

Flood victims' needs were entered into a database and volunteers were assigned. During the first two weeks, nearly a thousand of the Central Companies' 1,600 employees and associates worked at the center.

"At first, most of what we did was cleanup, pumping out basements, ripping up floor boards, and tearing out drywall," said Pat Lyons, marketing coordinator for the Central Companies and organizer of the recovery effort. "Volunteers came from 15 states, including a group of 15 Hurricane Andrew survivors from Florida."

Shuffling through stacks of papers and records, Lyons said he finds that for every success story, there are three or four families who still need help. At least half of the homes damaged in the neighborhood require substantial foundation repairs or complete rebuilding. As the waters have receded, so have the number of volunteers, such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters.

"This is a long way from over even though it's not as visible as it was two months ago," Lyons said. "Winter is coming and a lot of these houses still need furnaces and water heaters."

* Central Companies plans to add between $120,000 and $150,000 in grants for critical-need families; school-children who lost winter coats, boots, and clothes in the flood; and a voucher program for large durable goods, such as stoves and water heaters.

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