By Kim Jackson
Special to the Standard
BRIDGEWATER — Bridgewater residents Beth Robinson and Jeannette Sawyer never expected their impromptu Facebook group, Bridgewater Flood Response, to have so much response. In just a little more than three weeks, nearly 200 members of this group have come together to help disseminate information, connect people who want to help with those who need it, and to stock the Bridgewater Grange Hall with a mountain of supplies and food for those most affected by the floods and damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene.
For those who aren’t convinced, social media—yes, Facebook—works.
But while this story might be considered a case study for why social media is an integral part in making connections in today’s world, the real stories go far deeper than wall posts and the share button.
“Beth and I were at the town clerk’s office a lot, and we kept going down to see if we could do something for the people who had lost their homes,” said Sawyer, a retired clinical coordinator for the OR at Dartmouth Hitchcock. “Each time we would take one thing, whatever was needed. We did that for two to three days. Then on Friday we went down and Nancy [Robinson, town clerk] said to us, ‘Just do what you have to do.’ Beth came up with the idea of getting a group on Facebook, and that’s how it started.”
Within about 24 hours, more than 50 people had joined the Bridgewater Flood Response group. And it quickly became obvious to the two that they were going to need a home to house all the emergency supplies, donations and food that were being directed at them.
Robinson’s son, Daniel, and friends Andrew Buchan-Groff and Jake Sawyer hopped on their bikes in the early stages of the town’s recovery, delivering supplies in donated TD Bank bags. Jay Flaster connected wireless Internet in the Grange, so residents could come in with laptops and reconnect with the world—or sit quietly in their cars outside of the Grange and do the same. Randy Kennedy came and unlocked the town garage every morning so volunteers could access the overflow of supplies delivered from Chittenden.
“I’ve never seen so many supplies dropped off,” said Volunteer Polly Timken. “We have a whole store going on here. It’s a great place to meet everyone else in town, too. There has been a tremendous outpouring from the community. Some of the volunteers here were flooded out themselves yet the victims were here volunteering, too.”
Another resident created a Bridgewater Hurricane Fund website with the help of Bethany Birches Camp’s Executive Director Brandon Bergey and Bridgewater’s Neighbors Helping Neighbor’s Treasurer Mary Oldenburg in order to accept donations online.
“I was originally at the town clerk’s office and people wanted to donate so I said people could send it to Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” said Oldenburg. “Then some volunteers from the Grange efforts approached me about putting up a website. It’s surpassed what I thought we were going to get [and checks are still coming in]. We’ve had about 40 donors from various places including Bridgewater and from people who have ties to Bridgewater but live outside of town.” Christ Episcopal Church in Needham, Mass. took a plate collection one Sunday because a former parishioner of theirs now lives in Bridgewater. The Lutheran Gospel Mission in Pennsylvania also has ties to the community. Oldenburg said she has received donations from as far away as Florida and Texas, even London.
Even out of town businesses aided the call for help. Robinson’s eye doctor quickly made an appointment for a woman who had lost her house and needed contacts—no questions asked. Stateline Sports in Lebanon generously gave soccer equipment to a boy who had lost everything. A group of school kids from Weathersfield showed up randomly one Saturday with clothes, and while the Grange couldn’t handle any more clothing donations, volunteers made some phone calls and the donations were taken to Glad Rags in Woodstock. A family from Enosburg delivered a truckload of supplies. And the list of community support continues to grow—as does the newfound friendships and camaraderie within the community.
The Bridgewater Hurricane Fund, through Neighbors Helping Neighbors, continues to take donations via mail or through its website–http://bridgewaterhurricanefund.weebly.com. Grange hours fluctuate from week to week depending on the number of volunteers available to staff the supply area. Those in need of supplies are encouraged to join the Facebook group Bridgewater Flood Response for the latest on hours of operation and other local information.
This article first appeared in the September 22nd print edition of the Vermont Standard.