May 13th, 2011

Yesterday, we volunteered in Concord through Hands on Birmingham. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. to an already filled parking lot at Faith Chapel Christian Center. About fifty people boarded a pair of MAX transit buses and rode out to the site.

Laura, a volunteer coordinator and survivor of a tornado that took everything she had in 1982, offered encouraging words as we started our day, “This really makes a big difference to the survivors, just knowing that people care enough to come out and help. It’s so rewarding. You’re not only doing physical work, you’re encouraging them just by being willing to show up and help.”

With a few instructions, we began working. In theory it was a simple task: “Everything must be picked up and piled high by the road.”

In reality, it was overwhelming. There was so much debris; it was difficult to decide where to start. There was even a hollowed out fiberglass boat hull, about 25 feet long, lying on top of the slab.

As Hannah Selles said, “I feel like an ant.”

The debris seemed never-ending. Somehow after three and a half hours the entire area around us had been cleared, including the boat. The transformation seemed to happen all of the sudden, since most of the work was nose-down, pick something up and repeat.

Robyn Hyden said as we were leaving, “The damage we saw in Concord was overwhelming. We were only able to clear three lots and at the end of it, we felt exhausted, but also hopeful that our efforts would help this community get one step closer to rebuilding and recovery.”

There are many volunteer opportunities in disaster relief right now. Jefferson County Commissioner, Joe Knight was quoted here regarding countywide cleanup efforts, “the county has contracted with a debris-cleanup firm that has picked up 100,000 cubic yards of debris already. But there are about one million cubic yards to go.”

Debris clean up was an extremely moving and rewarding experience. However, there are some things to think of before signing up:

  • It is incredibly hot and there is no escaping it.
  • There is a lot of heavy lifting involved.
  • There are sights and smells that can be difficult to stomach.

If you do decide that debris clean up is right for you make sure to:

  • Drink plenty of water beforehand, bring plenty with you, and drink plenty afterwards.
  • Take breaks.
  • Wear thick-soled boots or shoes and thick gloves. There are nails, glass and sharp metal everywhere.
  • Be prepared to work as a team; it is the only way it will all get done.

We hope this information will help you decide if volunteering in debris cleanup is right for you. There are also lots of opportunities to volunteer in donation centers, shelters, service centers, food pantries and other skilled trades. Please look over our list of opportunities to see where you can plug in.