By Heather Graves
NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – More than a week after severe storms pounded the Greater Green Bay area, with wind bursts of more than 70 miles per hour, residents are still picking up the pieces.
However, in the midst of the devastation – streets lined with downed trees and power lines leaving thousands without power – neighbors wasted no time getting to work, stepping up to help each other.
Sometimes the aid came in the form of an unexpected pizza delivery or the offer of refrigerator or freezer space.
Other times, it was a community charging station, a chainsaw or a cool, safe place to stay.
The Green Bay Metro Fire Department said it received 175 calls for downed power lines, damaged utility poles, downed trees, gas leaks and damaged homes.
Officials with Wisconsin Public Services (WPS) and We Energies said tornadoes and high winds knocked out power to more then 175,000 customers.
Matt Cullen, senior communications specialist for WPS, said the extensive damage in Green Bay and the Fox Valley created an extended restoration time, as crews had to replace snapped power poles and rebuild electric circuits.
In the storm’s aftermath, the folks of Northeast Wisconsin stepped up, quickly lending a helping hand on the road to recovery.
West Green Bay resident Bea Warren said the reason she offered to help was simple – why not?
“I (had) electricity, my neighbors across the street and many in my neighborhood (did) not,” she said. “If I can alleviate some stress through the use of an extension cord, so people can charge their phones and other devices; if I can use my microwave and stove to warm up meals – why not help others? Kindness costs nothing.”
Warren set up a “charging station” in her front yard on Green Bay’s west side in the days that followed the storm to help members of the community who needed to charge their devices.
She also offered her microwave and stove for neighbors to use to cook meals as many were left without power for days.
“I very much believe that a community takes care of one another,” Warren said. “No one has to do big things alone. We can each do small things. When we all do small things, the big stuff gets completed.”
Armed with kindness, supplies and pizza, Green Bay resident Melissa Moore and her young daughter hit the streets.
After her daughter was diagnosed with pediatric lupus a few years ago, Moore said the support her family received from the community was incredible – a kindness she was able to pay forward after the recent storm.
“We always said we want to give back as well,” she said. “We want to teach our daughter the importance of helping others.”
Moore said she wasn’t sure how her family would be able to help, but she knew she had to do something.
“I made a post on Facebook offering help, but no one really responded to it,” she said. “Sometimes it is hard admitting that you need help, or you may even think there are other people in a worse situation. There are so many reasons as to why I probably didn’t get a response the first day I offered help.”
The lack of online response, however, didn’t stop Moore.
She said she realized due to many in the community without power, it was likely the post wasn’t seen by those who needed help.
“I posted on Facebook the second day, and people within the community offered to donate non-perishable food,” Moore said. “Some even donated money toward pizzas.”
In the days that followed, she and her family traveled around the community offering non-perishable food items, supplies and pizza deliveries to those struggling after the storm.
“Our community came together when it was needed,” Moore said. “It’s important to help those in need. It can be something as small as a short conversation, or even something more. It is okay to need help, and there are people willing to help those in need.”
Pittsfield resident Jenna Dais said the brunt of the storm damage on her nearly eight-acre property was on its trees, which in turn damaged her fences.
Dais said the immediate response she had from family, friends and neighbors was like nothing she had ever experienced before.
“I had at least 10 friends immediately reach out to us asking if we were ok, if we had damage and if we needed any help,” she said. “I was so touched by how many people reached out to us to see if we needed anything. We had a neighbor from the apartments come and help us clear debris and tree branches, and two friends helped us cut up fallen trees and haul them away. So many people pitched in. We were so grateful for all the kindness that was shown to us and the great deal of help we received.”
Dais said many of the trees that fell during the storm landed on the fences that corral her 10 horses – many that are used in our equine-assisted therapy program.
“We’ve taken in some rescues, and we also have several horses that are used in our therapy program,” she said. “We’ve held group sessions at our farm, and also used them in one-on-one and family mental health therapy sessions.”
Thankfully, she said, no horses were injured during the storm.
Dais said her neighbors were not home during the storm, but she went over to assess the damage and send him pictures.
“His glass patio door had blown off, and there was glass all over his yard,” she said. “His nephew and his wife showed up to clean up his yard and had everything cleaned up before he returned home.”
In Seymour, where the National Weather Service confirmed the touchdown of an EF-1 tornado, several residents took to social media to offer assistance with cleanup and support.
“If anyone needs help with cleanup, please let me know,” resident Dawna June posted. “I have some teenagers here with nothing to do.”
June took it a step further and purchased Wi-Fi in her vehicle and distributed the password to her neighbors to help them check messages and reach out to loved ones.
“We had to keep our car running non-stop for 4 days,” she said.
In Hobart, an area hit hard by the June 15 storms, leaving many without power for days, Resident Rachael Aitkin said the rain hadn’t even stopped before neighbors were on their ATVs buzzing around the neighborhood clearing the roads of trees.
Aitkin said her neighborhood has a Facebook page that keeps everybody connected.
“People (on there) were offering water, showers, freezer space… It’s amazing how everyone came together to offer help,” she said.
Aitkin said she was without power until Friday night.
“Our area was hit very hard and I was impressed by how everyone came together,” she said.
“(The next day), a few of my neighbors were outside, and we all met up in the street – some offered to have their kids come over and help pick up sticks and debris, others offered manpower and chainsaws, anything that was needed, people said ‘we’re here, we want to help,’” she said.
Great neighbors equals great neighborhoods
West Green Bay resident Wendy Townsend said the thing that makes great neighborhoods are great neighbors, something she said definitely shined through following last week’s devastating storms.
“I experienced the real heart of one of Green Bay neighborhood’s last week when strong storms hit the area – our neighborhood on Ernst Drive near Colburn Park was hit especially hard,” she said.
Townsend said it was only seconds after storms passed that neighbors emerged from their homes to check on the damage and see who needed help.
“The house directly across the street from mine is the home of an 88-year-old retired teacher that has been a pillar in our community and on our street for many years, and the person everyone ‘knows,’” she said.
Townsend said their elderly neighbor had a tree fall on her roof that eventually went through her kitchen ceiling.
“Fortunately, she was fine, but soon large plastic bins to catch the rain and armfuls of towels showed up with smiling faces to help,” she said. “One neighbor turned off the power for her while another brought a big flashlight and another called her son. Soon her fridge was emptied into coolers and sent to a nearby neighbor’s fridge with power.”
Townsend said the support didn’t stop there.
“We then started helping each other,” she said. “A neighbor emptied her fridge into mine, since my side of the street had power, and plugged in her hotspot so she could work remotely. In between her remote work throughout the next day she hauled tree limbs, picked up and swept up yards and driveways on either side of her home. I helped direct my husband ‘to get his chain saw’ to cut a tree limb that was too big to drag.”
Townsend said on her neighborhood walk down Neufeld Street the next morning, she saw a power cord run across the middle of the street to another neighbor’s house without power. “No doubt another act of generosity and kindness,” she said.
Townsend said neighborhoods like hers are forever changed with this storm.
“We will miss a few of the big, beautiful trees that once lined our neighborhood streets,” she said. “But our neighbors could never be replaced, and the smiles and the thoughtfulness is definitely alive and well.”
Crews on overdrive
As neighbors banded together to take care of each other, public works and rescue departments in municipalities throughout the area worked nearly round the clock to support residents as quickly as possible – first taking care of the most dangerous situations before moving on to the remaining debris and damage.
To help support its residents, the Village of Howard opened up its second-floor activity room at Village Hall for residents to charge items and cool off during the extended power outage.
The Village of Hobart declared a state of emergency and extended a special tree and brush debris pick up service for all residents.
Crews in the City of Green Bay also offered post-storm brush collection.
“I’m so thankful for all the crews that were out trying to restore power to everyone (and clearing debris),” Aitkin said.