American Red Cross established a residential shelter at Oak Park Pentecostals to help fire evacuees. Some of the volunteers include Richmond residents Ahmet Basgelen and Dana Mollenkopf, second and third from left. Supplied photo

Upon returning, some residents of Richmond’s fire evacuation zone might not be physically able to deep clean their home after their neighborhood became smoky.

Some might need detergent and quarters for extra loads of laundry at a coin-operated wash to remove odors from clothes, drapes and bedding.

Some might need help buying food or paying bills.

Realizing that not every evacuee shares the same challenges, local social service organizations and environmental and health officials are teaming up this week to address ongoing concerns.

From 4-8 p.m. Tuesday, local, state and federal agencies are partnering to offer Community Help Line LIVE at Fairview Elementary, 60 N.W. L St.

It’s an in-person version of the 24/7 hotline put in place to address residents’ concerns and questions regarding the recent Richmond industrial fire.

Residents can speak with response partners one-on-one and receive up-to-date information on debris collection, air monitoring and health-related questions. Environmental Protection Agency and Indiana Department of Environmental Management will place air monitoring equipment on display, allowing residents to learn how they operate.

“We encourage residents to come to this event and speak with our response partners directly. They are here to help and provide a better understanding of their response efforts and to answer any lingering questions,” said Matthew Cain, director of Wayne County Emergency Management Agency.

The Community Help Line remains open for those who cannot attend in person and can be reached at (765) 973-9300.

Then, on Thursday, April 27, evacuees who could use help recovering financially from the evacuations can request assistance to meet their individual needs.

They can discuss their circumstances at Dwyer Community Center during listening sessions offered between 9-11 a.m. or 1-3 p.m. that day at 1417 N. A St., Richmond.

Each conversation likely will last about 10 minutes, when a helper will compile the applicant’s contact information and needs and wants. 

In addition, large home cleaning kits, which are different from those available at Wayne County Health Department, and personal hygiene/health kits will be available at the listening sessions. They were contributed by Indiana United Methodist churches’ relief committees.

Those attending are asked to bring a bill, ID card or similar proof of residence. Wayne Township Trustee Susan Isaacs said aid has been donated specifically to help those who had to flee the half-mile area around the plastics fire, so it must be spent responsibly and comply with state audits.

As of Friday, about $5,000 has been gathered in local donations, and another $6,000 has been pledged from regional organizations wishing to remain anonymous.

While grateful for that initial support, Isaacs welcomes additional donations because she believes many residents are still trying to recover from added expenses and lost income during the evacuation.

Just because neighbors are back in their homes doesn’t mean their various burdens have disappeared, Isaac notes.     

Rather than assume a one-size-fits-all solution, Isaac said local social service personnel believe it’s most efficient to directly find out what could help families get comfortably resettled and provide it when possible.

“We didn’t want to spend limited resources on what we thought were the needs,” Isaacs said.

Several organizations are teaming to help people get through the disaster and its aftermath.

Isaacs is grateful for Richmond’s Dana Mollenkopf and his American Red Cross team that collaborated with Oak Park Pentecostals to open an emergency residential shelter soon after the fire. She considers Mollenkopf “The Leader of the Band” for his extensive volunteer efforts to meet evacuees’ urgent needs.   

A few additional partners include United Way of Whitewater Valley, Open Arms Ministries, Bethesda Worship Center, Amigos, Central United Methodist Church and Dwyer Center.

“A lot of good people are working on it,” Isaacs said. 

The trustee’s office sponsored multiple nights of motel rooms for about 15 residents whose circumstances didn’t mesh well with shelter accommodations.

In addition, The Laundry Project, which is a program of the trustee’s office, is offering free laundry for those in the fire evacuation area from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, April 28 at Coin A Matic Laundromat, 400 S. Fifth St. Proof of address is required.

How to give, receive help

Tuesday: Local, state, and federal response partners to Richmond’s industrial fire are offering Community Help Line LIVE from 4-8 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, at Fairview Elementary, 60 N.W. L St., Richmond.

It’s an in-person version of the 24/7 hotline put in place to address health and environmental concerns and questions. The Community Help Line at (765) 973-9300 remains open for those who cannot attend.

Thursday: Those who live in Richmond’s earlier fire evacuation zone are invited to stop by for listening sessions between 9-11 a.m. or 1-3 p.m. Thursday, April 27, at Dwyer Community Center, 1417 N. A St., Richmond. Social service representatives will chat with families for about 10 minutes to learn their needs and provide large cleaning kits and personal hygiene items if desired. Volunteers are needed to unload supply pallets whenever they arrive. For more information, call 765-220-1314.

Checks to Wayne Township Trustee’s office at 401 E. Main St., Richmond, IN 47374, indicating in the memo line that contributions are for the Fire Fund.

The trustee’s office is open 8 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and Fridays at Wayne County Administration Building. Thursday hours are by appointment. Call 765-973-9392 for assistance.

Friday: The Laundry Project, which is a program of the trustee’s office, is offering free laundry for those in the fire evacuation area from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, April 28 at Coin A Matic Laundromat, 400 S. Fifth St. Proof of address is required.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 26 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.