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Students respond to flood

Emma Driscoll | Tuesday, February 27, 2007

After a Feb. 14 pipe break at the Food Bank of Northern Indiana damaged 15,000 pounds of food, Notre Dame students have responded – or are planning to respond – to the request for volunteers to help salvage what’s left.

The pipe break occurred in the corner of an unheated room on the northwest side of the second floor of the Food Bank’s warehouse, said Dennis Brown, the executive director of the Food Bank.

When a Notre Dame student heard about the flooding, he encouraged students to help.

Senior Ryan Daily, the community volunteer request coordinator for Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns sent out a notice to “hopefully every dorm service commissioner” last week so they could inform their residents about the situation and see if anybody would want to help out.

Daily felt that if students received the request from their dorm service commissioners, they would be inclined to volunteer.

“I presume students have helped out, and if not, they will be helping soon,” he said.

Daily was right, as Welsh Family resident assistant Shelly Heger heard about the pipe break and the need for volunteers from her service commissioner.

“I think it’s really cool that the service commissioners brought it to our attention,” Heger said.

An article from the South Bend Tribune about the pipe break was attached to the e-mail from her service commissioner, which inspired Heger to want to help.

“I read the article from the South Bend Tribune and it seemed like such a horrible thing that happened to them,” she said. “They lost a significant amount, maybe a majority, of food that they had available … We have time and we are able, so why not?”

Since people depend on the canned goods stored by the food bank for their daily food source, the loss can have a tremendous impact.

“It just seemed like such a horrible thing happened to them,” Heger said. “They’re a food bank, so everything they do is getting these canned foods out to people and if they don’t have canned food, then people can’t eat.”

The pipe burst occurred when cold from a fresh air vent made the cast iron clamp that holds three pipes together to clamp. Due to the water pressure in the pipes, water immediately escaped and “there was a torrential downpour.”

“We had water coming down the walls, through the ceilings and down the stairs from that corner area and we ended up with about three inches of water in a 40,000 square foot area [where food was kept],” Brown said.

Since the lower level of the warehouse is about 82,000 square feet, Brown said the water affected close to half the warehouse. Although the fire alarm sounded, Brown said “by the time they were able to turn off the water to the building, the damage had been done.”

Crews began to clean up the damages at the food bank the morning after the event.

“We purchased three wet-dry vacs and had eight men working for eight or nine hours straight pulling water off the floor,” Brown said. “Then we had volunteer crews, service workers and staff trying to rescue as much food as we could.”

One of the difficulties caused by the water damage was that wet can labels were no longer legible and it was impossible to tell what the original contents were. The food bank had to get rid of these cans, along with the paper goods supply, Brown said.

Beside the food supply, the food bank will need to replace the furnace in the corner where the break occurred. A supply vent and insulation will also be needed, Brown said.

Heger contacted the food bank toward the end of last week with the intention of gathering a group of girls from her dorm section to volunteer over the weekend. Heger heard back from the food bank Monday and is now planning to take her section to help sometime later this week.

“I think we’re going to be sorting, re-labeling and just salvaging some of the food that they lost,” she said.

Volunteer Coordinator for the Food Bank Beth Graham said while she has had “a lot of offers [of assistance] from Notre Dame students,” she has not scheduled all of them yet because it can be difficult to train new people under such circumstances.

“Sometimes it’s almost overwhelming because we’re kind of restricted in some ways on the hours we can have volunteers. … It can be kind of hard to manage a lot of different people and we have to teach every new person [what to look for],” she said.

Graham also said the Notre Dame students who have already helped with the damage are either regular volunteers or are completing community service hours.

“It’s not that they don’t want to be here. They are great workers, but that’s why they are here, first,” Graham said, before adding that some students who began volunteering at the Food Bank for community service continued to volunteer after completing their required service

The total cost of the flooding will be steep, Brown said.

“When all is said and done, we’re estimating that we are going to be somewhere in the five to ten thousand dollar range as far as expenses and damages,” Brown said.

Fortunately, the Food Bank has received offers of donations to help repair the damages.

“It’s looking like we should be able to break even,” Brown said.