Volunteers spend holiday in Fort Plain


Recorder News Staff

FORT PLAIN -- Streets remained abuzz on Thursday as volunteers worked through the holiday and continued restoration in Fort Plain following last week's flood.

"It's the Fourth of July holiday and people have this day off," Reformed Church of Fort Plain Pastor Nancy Ryan said. "Some people have shared with us that they had plans for picnics, but instead they're here to, if you will, celebrate cleanup."

The Reformed Church has become the headquarters for anyone interested in volunteering and Ryan has spearheaded its organization. She said more 650 people have donated their time and effort so far.

"That's not counting volunteer groups that have just come and gone to a place and asked if they needed help and just started helping," Ryan said. "So way over 650 people have come into town and it's made a huge difference."

Ryan said people have come from all over the state and even a few from places across the country.

"It's been amazing," Ryan said. "Folks come in perfectly clean and two hours later it looks like they've been mud wrestling. They're getting down and dirty, literally, and they're not hesitating."

Ryan said volunteers have options other than doing heavy lifting and can be of use no matter their skill level. She said they are still in need of extra hands and, if possible, should call ahead to say they're coming. This way she can ask if they have tools necessary to the job like hammers and crow bars, in high demand currently.

Volunteers report to the church beginning early in the morning and continue to come in throughout the day. Ryan said she usually sends the last group out around 4 p.m. Groups vary in size from four members, the smallest groups, to as large as 15 members, depending on the work order.

Ryan sent a crew to Renee Shoemaker's house on Main Street where they met additional volunteers from the Girl Scouts and a youth group from Schoharie.

"I would be lost without them," Shoemaker, who has lived at that address for 22 years, said. "I mean, I'm still lost, but it's better with them."

Shoemaker's duplex was destroyed after the flood, creating upwards of $100,000 worth of damage.

Picking up a dusty Christmas decoration, she gave it a once over and let it fall back to the ground.

"Broken," she sighed. "Thought maybe I had one."

In addition to decorations, Shoemaker said she's also lost all the house's appliances -- the refrigerator, the washer and dryer, the stove, the freezer. Crews helped move the furniture that may be salvageable to the front yard to dry out. Shoemaker has been going through it all to determine what she wants to save.

"That was my grandmother's," Shoemaker said, pointing to a dusty, tilting dresser and vanity table. "They're antiques. How can you throw that away? But, more than likely, by the condition of it, it's probably going to have to go."

Shoemaker said a lifetime's worth of memories were stored in that house, now most of it has been destroyed. Old photographs lay on the front porch, attempting to dry in the sun.

"How do you watch your pictures go in the garbage?" Shoemaker asked, desperately. "How do you do that? Everything's gone."

The only thing she and her family of her, her mother and her four children, have left, Shoemaker said, is their camper in St. Johnsville.

"We get up, we come here, we work like dogs all day until we're about ready to collapse," Shoemaker said, "then we go back to the camper. Then we collapse, get up and do it all over again."

Shoemaker said if Fort Plain doesn't get declared a disaster area by the federal government, she doesn't know what she'll do.

"I'll be living on open walls and a plank-board floor," Shoemaker said. "I have no idea. I don't even have the funding to make the purchases to be reimbursed."

Ryan said she encourages all volunteers to sign in with the church because it will help out with funding long-term.

"If we are declared a disaster so we get FEMA aid, there's still a percentage that the town will be responsible for," Ryan said. "All the volunteers will be added up to some formula to reduce the amount of money that we'll owe for the disaster relief.

"By people stopping here ... every single name on every single list, even if you're coming over and over again, will help reduce whatever the amount is that we have to pay."

Ryan said they don't mind if groups already have a location they want to help out, just that they sign in beforehand.

The Benefit Club from St. Johnsville and a group of friends from surrounding areas each set up tables in Hazlett Park and grilled food for workers and residents, free of charge.

Dee Marshall, from Gloversville, said she organized the food table the day prior and went around to local businesses to ask for donations. Some gave money, some gave food.

"If it was my community, I would want others to help us," Marshall said. "So we are going to do everything and anything we can."

Ryan said a volunteer group came to the church and asked for garbage bags and markers so they could go around town to collect clothing from people and do their laundry.

Shoemaker said it's basic necessities that are of greatest treasure now.

"You have no idea how much a clean towel means right now," Shoemaker said. "It's the little things that you take for granted that really make a difference. Someone brings you a new tooth brush and you want to cry and kiss them."

Ryan said, to those who may be hesitant to ask for help, let the volunteers help.

"To those who are still reluctant, let us help you," Ryan said. "We have people who have come all the way here to do just what you need done and nobody needs to do it alone."

She said they're thankful for the outpour of volunteers and are astonished by the selflessness displayed around the village.

"I just think it's such a blessing and we're so grateful for that," Ryan said. "Don't tell me that God isn't good. Don't tell me that there isn't a God and don't tell me the people aren't good, because they are. They're doing this. We're not able to do this on our own."