What started out as delivering a cooked meals to strangers has become so much more.
The Wayne Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) was established in the days immediately after Tropical Storm Irene. Floodwaters were at an all-time high. People whose homes never flooded had water throughout their houses. Some people had power, some didn’t.
“We gave structure to something so that people could put some effort toward helping their neighbors,” said Rev. Karyn Ratcliffe, VOAD chairwoman and pastor of Packanack Community Church. “It was our best attempt at meeting the needs of people when we didn’t even know what those needs were. It was a huge educational process for us too.”
VOADs are non-profit, non-governmental organizations that help organize relief efforts between organizations during disasters.
The group helped cook and serve hot meals to residents at Preakness Reformed Church. Ratcliffe and volunteers drove around town and knocked on doors of total strangers to see if they needed food and cleaning supplies.
That is when the group really began to make a difference in the lives of others.
“People were so moved by that,” Ratcliffe said. “To have someone go to where they were and give them food and other things they needed, that meant a lot to them.”
The group has moved on from merely just cooking to meals. When a situation, any emergency situation occurs in town,
Ratcliffe communications with municipal and emergency service personnel to see if VOAD can assist them during a specific situation; VOAD has created an incident action plan to provide better assistance during emergencies.
Ratcliffe and others always defer to local leaders’ authority. The group does not just spring into action without some form of plan of how to coordinate everyone’s efforts.
“VOAD, by definition, should be all the different groups of people working together to meet basic human needs,” Ratcliffe said.
Ratcliffe was quick to point out that the relationships VOAD members have formed since Irene have been the backbone of the group’s success.
“It’s a web of relationships and people who have gotten to know each other from every corner of this town,” Ratcliffe said. “People have formed relationships so that in the event of another disaster, we can call on each other.”
Ratcliffe has been honored for her efforts. She received the Humanitarian Award from Garden State Woman, a non-profit dedicated to empowering women to take control of their lives and better their communities.
Ratcliffe said that VOAD could only have been created out of the circumstances that it was because of the needs that existed in the community.
“People were looking for a way to tie in to help others and VOAD provided that,” Ratcliffe said.
But there was something more to what happened. Something happened on a spiritual level, Ratcliffe said.
“The story itself shows that Christ is present in the disaster and that God will provide everything we needed if we walk by faith and VOAD is an example of that,” she said.