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Non-profits and local businesses who helped feed and support Cedar Rapids after the derecho continue work one year later

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 10:37 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - After the derecho did so much damage across Eastern Iowa, people in the community came together and stepped up.

Together We Achieve and Bridge Under the Bridge are two non-profits in Cedar Rapids that formed after the derecho, and whose efforts to uplift and support the community are continuing and growing even now, a year later.

Raymond Siddell is one of the founders of Together We Achieve and runs the Iowa Storm Derecho Resource Center in Cedar Rapids with Matthew Salger. He recalled the weeks after the derecho as chaos- not to mention the storm itself.

“It started off with a canopy and one folding table. And just constant posting on social media,” Siddell said.

Siddell started a Facebook group Iowa Storm Derecho Resource Page just hours after the storm with the little cell service he had. The page has more than 66,000 members and lets Iowans ask for help on things like debris removal or where they can find a good contractor.

The center has grown significantly over the last year and is now located at 1150 27th Ave in SW Cedar Rapids. It’s helping more than 20 households a night, and Siddell said they’re seeing a recent increase in need.

“Now that unemployment changed in June, and rent moratorium was lifted, or expired I guess on July 31st, we’re starting to see individuals who are just back in a position where it’s tough for them to figure out how to make ends meet,” Siddell said.

Continuing the mission of helping people and uplifting the community, as well as setting an example for his family.

“I have two boys. And I’ve been able to bring them in here, they’ve helped stock shelves, they’ve helped people carry groceries to their car and I think it’s just an eye-opening experience for them,” Siddell said. “To see what sort of need there is in the community, but how easy it is to give back.”

Bridgette Williams-Robinson remembers the day of the derecho, as she drove through the storm.

“We actually had to go over the 8th Avenue bridge by the YMCA, and it was terrifying. Because as the rain came down the water came up,” Williams-Robinson said.

Williams-Robinson started cooking that night on 8th Avenue SW, under the bridge, for her family and neighbors.

“We had two deep freezers full of meat. And whether we were going to cook it or throw it away, something had to be done,” Williams-Robinson said. “So, we decided to cook as much as we could every day, until it was either not good enough to cook, or it was all cooked up.”

Williams-Robinson said she didn’t realize at the time what cooking that first day would grow into. In the weeks after the derecho, Bridge Under the Bridge fed thousands of people. It gained non-profit status in February. Now, she’s expanding its weekly food boxes, and moving into a new office in the Tanager building.

“It’s almost unreal. Just to believe that we needed help, right before this. We were going to pantries and things like that, having to qualify for assistance and now being able to full circle and understand what it feels like to help others,” Williams-Robinson said.

One year later, both non-profits remembering the response and resilience of the community that rallied behind them.

“As the needs change, we want to make sure we’re changing as well. And that we stay true to our mission, which is helping people in need,” Siddell said.

“I never realized it was going to be this big or this important, but I’m glad I decided to do it,” Williams-Robinson said.

The derecho left so many people across Eastern Iowa in need of help. Thousands found a hot meal in the weeks after the derecho at Willie Ray’s Q Shack. Willie Ray Fairley started grilling ribs just a few hours after the storm passed, feeding anyone who showed up, for free.

Fairley’s kindness started something that lasted a month and a half, as feeding a few people turned into feeding thousands.

Fairley said the day of the storm, he drove through the winds to get back to Cedar Rapids. Over the last year, he’s been recognized on local and national levels, including during the governor’s condition of the state. He even traveled to Texas in February to help feed people there.

Fairley said that he couldn’t have dreamed everything that’s come from the last year.

”Oh it’s been huge. I go to Wal-Mart, Sam’s, and people always thanking me for what we did, and it’s just great you know? With the community wrapping its arms around you and showing their appreciation, and it’s just beautiful,” Fairley said.

Fairley said he’s grateful for the incredible support he’s continued to see over the last year, as he continues his mission of helping those in need and leaving a legacy for his family.

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