One year ago, on July 11, 2016, tornadoes tore through Watkins and northwest Litchfield, leaving destruction in their wake. Meeker County Chief Deputy Dan Miller told the St. Cloud Times 21 homes had major structural damage while in Watkins 10 homes were completely destroyed.
Delores Faber, 84, of Watkins was fortunate to survive. That Monday evening, she heard the tornado sirens and looked outside to see debris flying down the street in Watkins. She described the scene in a video created by the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Ulm: “And I turned around to go for cover, and before I could make another step, I was knocked down on my knees by something — either a board or a ceiling tile or something is what I’m assuming now — and I didn’t know it at the time, but I was the only injured person from the tornado.”
In addition to her injury, her home was nearly a complete loss. Fortunately, help was on the way. Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) quickly established a tornado recovery fund in partnership with its community affiliate, Litchfield Area Community Foundation.
This “Meeker County Tornado Recovery Effort Fund” received contributions of over $16,000. To make more impact, the foundation waived its standard fund administration fee and covered processing fees for donations made online, which meant 100 percent of every dollar donated went toward the communities’ long-term recovery efforts.
Nancy Fasching is SWIF’s community impact director and oversees its grant programs. She recognizes immediate disaster response is crucial, but aid shouldn’t stop there.
“Long-term recovery efforts are just as important. That’s where Southwest Initiative Foundation and Litchfield Area Community Foundation helped,” Fasching said. “The fund is a way neighbors were able to lend a hand for the long-haul.”
Additionally, a SWIF grant of $1,500 provided Econofoods and Walmart gift certificates to cover immediate needs of those forced out of their homes. The community of Watkins and Catholic Charities in cooperation with the New Ulm Diocese also raised funds. All partners raised a combined total of $78,262.27 for community assistance.
To avoid payments to individuals for the same expense by different organizations, area churches played a major role in distributing funds. Fr. Joe Steinbeisser at St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Litchfield wrote checks totaling $2,000 to three individuals.
The Church of St. Anthony distributed money to residents in Watkins, hit the hardest by the storm. St. Anthony’s Fr. Aaron Nett, parish secretary Jessica Teicher and parish trustees Don Neisen and Cindy Kuechle formed the review committee. They focused on granting money to those struggling to pay out-of-pocket expenses.
“There was some pretty significant loss with some of the people in town,” Teicher told The Prairie Catholic diocesan newspaper.
Grant amounts ranged from $500 to $5,000, with an average of $3,000. The total distributed — $78,262.27 — helped 56 households, touching the lives of 105 people. Nearly a quarter of them were seniors like Delores.
A St. Anthony parishioner, Delores read about the tornado relief funds the church bulletin and applied.
“I just know that I got a nice check from them to help with some of the things I was supposed to have that was recommended by the doctor,” she said.
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