Duluth, Minnesota recently endured a 500 year flood. Volunteers helped each other get through it. (More)

The flood made the national news mainly because the zoo flooded and seals were found out and about on Grand Avenue. It was also a slow news day and the seals were really cute.

To picture Duluth’s geography, think of San Francisco, California. Duluth is a city that has grown up, literally around a harbor at the western most point of Lake Superior. The roads go along the shore of Lake Superior and up the hillsides. When approaching the city from the South, the descent on 35W gives one a panoramic view of the harbor and the city as it crawls up the surrounding hills. Forty-three rivers, creeks, and streams flow from the top of the hills down into Lake Superior. Nine or ten inches of rainfall had only one way to go and that was down to the big lake.

This is really a story about community and recovery. The floods of June 2012 were epic and destructive. Minnesota’s Democratic Governor, Mark Dayton applied for and received federal disaster funding. That’s important but not the only part of the recovery. Thousands of volunteers have pitched in to help the city’s residents.

The volunteers have provided local officials with a big boost, said Cheryl Skafte, Duluth’s volunteer coordinator.

“There was a moment where I was like, ‘oh man, are we going to have to do this all by ourselves?'” said Skafte, who started work only nine days before the flood hit.

“It was quickly apparent that there are a lot of folks out there that come with expertise and organization in these types of situations,” she said. “And those resources that they’ve brought have been invaluable to our community.”

Katherine Clements is director of coordination services for New York-based All Hands Volunteers, has been blown away by what she calls the “Midwest factor.”

“People just come out in swarms to help their neighbors and their family, and they do it fast,” said Clements, who is in Duluth helping the city coordinate volunteers.

My youngest son and my daughter-in-law attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth. One of my son’s friends who camped here last year stopped by to visit. He works for Home Depot in Duluth. I asked him what Home Depot’s response was like and he glowed with pride. “We had palettes full of chain saws, contractor garbage bags, every thing you could think of and some things you wouldn’t have thought of but needed anyway.”

Tom’s home had escaped damage but he had been out working to clean up a nearby park along with lots of other volunteers. He said that from the top of the park, it didn’t look too bad but once you went down it was clear that an army of volunteers would be needed. Social media alerts multiplied the crew by a factor of ten with promises that they would move to the next park the next night. Tom was taking a break from volunteering which he said had become his other full time job.

Tom mentioned that politics occasionally got discussed and that people were quite pleased that they had a Democratic Governor and two Democratic Senators making the pleas to a Democratic President. “Can you imagine,” he said, “if we had voted in Republicans. We’d be left to hang on our own.”

Volunteers rock! If there’s not a natural disaster in your immediate vicinity there’s always Organizing for America to reelect President Obama and your state and local Democratic party organizations. Making phone calls doesn’t seem so bad when compared to hauling debris from a mud filled home. Both are important in their own way. We need each other to be there for each other when bad things happen. Sometimes we are there for each other through FEMA and our tax dollars and other times we pull on our work boots and gloves and get busy. Volunteers rock!

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