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Vermonters pitch in to aid storm victims

Fund-raisers of all sizes being held

MONTPELIER - A 94-year-old woman from New Orleans who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina sent in a check for $25. Children at a Vermont elementary school collected coins for a week, raising $2,000. The rock band Phish performed a benefit, raising about $1.2 million. And a man from Northampton, Mass., mailed a check for $500 after driving on flood-ravaged Route 4 in Mendon.

Knowing that aid from the government or insurance will fall short, Vermonters have been raising money through benefit concerts, fund-raising campaigns, and events like barbecues and pie sales to help those whose homes were damaged or lost in the flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Irene. Like the volunteers who turned out in droves to help clean out and repair homes and businesses after the storm, donors have been very generous, officials said.

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“No matter where you go, people want to help,’’ said David Coates, chairman of the Vermont Long Term Disaster Recovery Group, which has raised nearly $1.8 million.

But figuring out how much more money is needed and raising it months after the storm is the challenge.

“The unmet need - we really don’t know what it is except it’s a lot,’’ Coates said.

Officials are just starting to get an idea of how many people may need more money. An estimated 5 to 15 percent of the 7,000 applicants for Federal Emergency Management Agency flood aid are expected to need extra help, Coates said.

The Aug. 28 storm brought heavy rains that turned streams and rivers into torrents, washing away large segments of roads, bridges, and homes. The storm caused more than $500 million in damage and more than 70,000 power outages.

Towns like Wilmington and Waterbury that were hit hard by flooding have raised money through online campaigns. An effort in Wilmington, a southern Vermont ski town near the Mount Snow ski resort, has raised $194,000 for businesses that were devastated by flooding, much of it from people who own second homes there.

The Vermont Community Foundation has collected about $3.3 million in contributions or pledges for funds dedicated to flood-related relief.

“It really just warms your heart to see how many different organizations and businesses that have stepped up,’’ said Felipe Rivera, vice president of communications.

One of the funds is for farmers. As of last month, a total of $541,000 in grants had gone to 101 farmers. Representatives from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, the Vermont Farm Bureau, and the University of Vermont extension decide who will get the funds.

Caseworkers also will meet with flood victims and determine what kind of help and how much of it is needed, said Coates. Those with the least will be the priority.

“What we have are people couch-surfing, living in their cars, living in tents,’’ he said.

Vermonters have until tomorrow to apply for FEMA aid so the numbers seeking assistance could go up.

To help, a Vermont couple raised $60,000 through their “I am Vermont Strong’’ T-shirts. The money has gone to the Vermont Foodbank, so that flood victims have enough food.

A frequent visitor to Vermont from Michigan sent a $10,000 check. Performance artists Blue Man Group and musicians performed at a fund-raiser in Brooklyn, N.Y., that drummed up $12,000. Vermont restaurants and their staff are donating their proceeds for a night to flood relief.

“What’s wonderful about it, the different activities and fund-raising things are touching all walks of life, which is the way it should be,’’ said Stuart Comstock-Gay, president of the Vermont Community Foundation.

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