VILONIA — The Vilonia Ministerial Alliance is making plans to serve as the nucleus of a long-term recovery team helping those in need.

An informational meeting was held Monday night at the Vilonia Methodist Church with 20 or so in attendance including pastors, church members and representatives of several organizations. There were also a few tornado victims present.

The purpose of forming a recovery team, according to the Rev. Belinda Price, who introduced the project to the audience, is to take care of the people who still have needs and no means of getting help.  

"The city can’t keep doing it forever," Price said. "This is so people won’t get lost and fall through the cracks." 

There was talk of writing bylaws, mission statements and training. From the long-term recovery team, it was said, other committees may be formed with a variety of duties. Some will train as case workers, going door to door, making assessments. Others will take the lead in handling labor, materials, grant writing and funding sources. 

The meeting also allowed organizations to share information as well they offered a helping hand. Repeatedly, speakers said to the group "you are not in this by yourself."

Janet Tyree of FEMA touted the benefits of forming the recovery team. It’s a team, she said, that’s scope can be far reaching — beyond tornado relief. It could help, she said, with any other potential disaster such as house fires.  

While FEMA doesn’t monetarily fund such projects, she pledged her support in the form of providing resource materials and referrals. The Disaster Recovery Center in Vilonia, she said, will be closing soon.  When the center closes, she reminded, that victims may continue to apply for assistance by calling 1-800-621-3362. 

She also touched on victims’ privacy rights and ways to apply for financial aid from FEMA.

"You must have a plan," she said. 

She also talked about those making appeals.

"If you are going to write an appeal make it matter of fact," she said. "Don’t write from your heart. We need to know your plan."

Representatives from Catholic Charities were in attendance including Rod Scott. His organization, he said, is not "Johnny on the spot," following a tragedy but instead focuses on "bridging the transition between immediate recovery and long term recovery." 

They also have a case management program in place. Currently, he said, they have obligated to work with 51 families in the Vilonia/Black Oak Ranch area helping to put together long term recovery plans.

"Many have no idea of the resources available to them," Scott said. "There are all sorts of situations you can help with. You can be a resource and help them navigate what can be a difficult system."

Long-term recovery teams must commit to helping families "months — sometimes years," he said. "It takes a lot of time and effort." 

On that same note, he said, the Catholic Charities could be counted on for some financial assistance.

James Anderson of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance also addressed the meeting. He talked briefly about a Mena team. That team, he said, is a "success story" and would be an excellent resource for a team in the beginning stages such as Vilonia. He also said he has a grant request earmarked to help support the Vilonia team.

Debbie Martin, safety officer with the Vilonia Fire Department, updated the group concerning measures that are in place. She said she has canvassed door to door in all of the tornado hit areas and has a list of needs. A warehouse at 102 William J. Clark Drive in Conway, she said, is being used for housing donated items. Items that have been donated and housed there include clothing, mattresses, clothing and bottled water. A critical need, she said, is for volunteers.

The meeting ended with the Ministerial Alliance agreeing to spearhead the team project.

Tuesday morning, FEMA officials confirmed that 697 families in Faulkner County have registered for assistance. FEMA has assisted 673 families in Faulkner County with housing, awarded $171,000 for personal property and funeral assistance, paid out $1.3 million for housing and paid out $30,200 each in maximum grants to 13 families. 

Also, FEMA officials said they are aware local and state officials are meeting concerning repair of infrastructure. However, no money has been awarded as of yet for that purpose.