“Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” she cried out.
The day before, most of her yard on Redwood Drive was a sea of debris from the aftermath of the winter storm. The 67-year-old retiree piled what she could on the curb with a friend who had come from Alabama to help and a friendly neighbor who offered a hand.
But the job was still too much for the three.
Feeling defeated, Gillion-Martin went to dinner at Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar with her friend. Two volunteers with Team Rubicon, a disaster relief organization made up of veterans and first responders, sat next to them. They struck up a conversation, and Gillion-Martin learned the crew had volunteers from as far away as California in town for cleanup, and they were willing to help.
As promised, they were there at 11 a.m. the next day.
“I have whole lot of angels in my yard right now,” Gillion-Martin said, watching volunteers remove tree limbs from her roof. “If it weren’t for them, I have absolutely truly no idea what I would have done.”
Since the storm pummeled Augusta with icy rain that took down power lines and trees last week, hundreds of volunteers have come to the area to help residents with everything from damaged roofs to debris-filled yards. Many are working through Georgia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, an umbrella organization for disaster relief groups stemming out of individual churches, dioceses or neighborhood efforts.
Its Georgia president, Mike Yoder, said Augusta is the latest stop for hundreds of volunteers, who also helped after Hurricane Sandy and the 2013 tornado in Adairsville, Ga.
“When there’s a disaster we start having conference calls as soon as somebody requests help and start dispatching out,” Yoder said. “Our priority is the indigent, those with no insurance, the elderly, but we help anyone in need.”
Local emergency preparedness officials and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency provide home addresses of those who have requested help to the VOAD groups, some contacts are made in the field, and some groups have hot lines for residents to call.
About 25 volunteers arrived with Team Rubicon on Friday and already have clocked 700 work hours, said public information officer Deborah DeMarchis.
The crew has helped remove trees from yards, piled debris on curbs for pickup and even intervened when an 86-year-old woman was found on her roof trying to patch a hole.
“A lot of these people don’t have money to buy the tools to do the work or they just can’t physically do it,” said Michele Pack, an Air National Guard veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2011. “We had one man come up to us and say, ‘I just want an estimate. I don’t have a chain saw, so how much will you charge to help me?’ And we’re like, ‘Nothing, it’s free.’ It feels so good to do that. We’re just smiling the whole time.”
More than 200 volunteers with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Evans, also with Georgia VOAD, worked over the weekend to clear debris for the elderly and disabled.
The church’s Augusta stake president, David Squires, said volunteer groups play a huge role in helping the community when government efforts are not enough.
His church’s volunteers assisted cleanup at more than 150 homes over the weekend, but Squires said he needs more volunteers to resume the efforts Saturday.
“When disaster strikes, the church is usually one of the first responders because we have people we can mobilize,” he said. “The government comes in and does big jobs like clearing the roads and establishing order, but it really requires volunteer organizations to help individual homeowners.”
About 12 volunteers with Georgia VOAD group Unworthy Servants arrived from Henry County on Sunday and will continue to work this week.
Volunteer Josh Edwards said his crew is multi-denominational. Many of them have day jobs, he said, and all just want to lend a hand.
He said his volunteers have made contact with everyone from the elderly to those without a chain saw to do the job. But it’s his volunteers who often get the most out of the experience.
“It’s a great way to express our faith and for us to just love the community,” Edwards said.