An unexpected and much appreciated helping hand came to Magoffin’s aid earlier this month with a group based out of Cincinnati deploying to Salyersville to assist in the flood cleanup.
A national non-profit organization called Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, which is made up of veterans, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and EMS personnel, deployed a group from its Greater Cincinnati Chapter to help with the flood cleanup from March 11 through 13, assisting 12 families, two churches and the Water Into Wine Food Pantry.
Theresa Heeger, the grant writer for the Greater Cincinnati Chapter, knows a thing or two about Magoffin County.
“I lived in Magoffin in 2012 when the tornado hit and I know the response we got after that,” Heeger said. “I moved back to northern Kentucky in August 2012, but I remain in contact with people there and I watch the news, so I knew eastern Kentucky had been hit and knew Magoffin wouldn’t get a lot of help.”
Heeger immediately contacted Magoffin County Judge/Executive Matt Wireman’s office and arranged the trip for herself and seven other members of the group.
The eight stayed at Lakefront Church of God’s Water Into Wine Food Pantry, which has space to shelter teams coming in to assist the area.
Ashley Salyer, with the judge’s office, gave the group a list of needs in the community and that’s where they started, wasting no time, with “boots on the ground” starting midday on March 11 and working for five hours that afternoon. The other two days they worked from sunup to sundown, mucking out homes and churches, carrying food and supplies to those in need, helping out at the food pantry and even sitting up a cross that had fallen over in the aftermath of the flood.
“We packed 220 pounds of food to a home on Goat Mountain, which was more like a military mission,” Heeger explained. “Her and her son lived at the top of the hill and the road was impassible.”
The group mucked out and pressure washed the Bloomington Baptist Church. They gave toys to a family with two little boys that had lost everything. They delivered a trailer of food and water to the community, which is being distributed by Water Into Wine. They had a list of contact numbers, calling numerous people just to see if they could use assistance.
“We’re a national non-profit based out of Arkansas and we have different teams and chapters nationwide,” Heeger explained. “We’re all veterans and first responders and it all started with a retired sergeant major in 2010 after Hurricane Katrina hit, organizing disaster relief missions.”
This was Heeger’s fourth deployment in the two years she’s been with the organization, having worked two back-to-back missions after the Chattanooga and Nashville tornados hit just weeks apart last year.
The organization exists to engage, assist and empower the nation’s “sheep dogs” (veterans, first responders, etc.) to “Get off the Couch.”
“Since 2010, we’ve helped 2,224 people, 900 properties, distributed 16,000 pounds of food and 20,000 pounds of supplies,” Heeger explained. “We have adventure tourism, going to Yellowstone, scuba diving, and so much more. A lot of us suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD, so this keeps us off the couch and keeps us going. We just keep doing what we do and reengage in life. These outdoor missions keep our minds off of the things bothering us and we can help people along the way.”
Heeger, who is also a nurse, noted that she had to make two social services referrals while she was here, saying that she felt obligated to report when she saw people living in unsafe environments.
“We just never know what we’re going to walk into,” Heeger said. “We’re in their area, the people and wildlife, and we have to prepare for all the different aspects.”
On the whole, Heeger said everyone was very appreciative of their work.
“One lady told us that in the 40 years their church had been there, they had never received any help,” Heeger said. “The entire church was clean when we left.”
At Cow Creek Church of God they dug out a trench to try to keep the hill from sliding, again, and fixed the cross that had been knocked over.
“Really, all these people who had struggled their whole life seem teams come in and kind of see money signs, so we have to deal with that a lot, too,” she explained. “We don’t offer monetary donations. We run off donations. If we couldn’t give them money, they didn’t want our help, and that’s okay.”
Heeger said they are trained to pack everything needed to survive, so the warm welcome and accommodations were a nice change of pace.
“We’ve slept in the floor in just a sleeping bag, so this was like staying in a hotel for us,” Heeger said, thanking Jeff Tackett with Water Into Wine for helping them with a place to stay.
“We’re basically told to pack to survive, so when we go on missions, if we have to eat cheese crackers the whole time we’re there, that’s what we’ll do.”
While they have a trailer with their major necessities, she explained they rarely have a place to stay, especially since they focus on disaster relief and most of the towns they’ve visited have been hit hard by tornadoes or floods, leaving no nearby hotels or shelters.
“Here we had beds with linens, a whole kitchen, a TV, hot water” Heeger said. “It was like we were in a hotel. It was the best deployment we had ever been on as far as stabilizing and basing us and we’re extremely grateful for that. If we had to, we would have stayed in the parking lot at the community center. We’ve seen it all and done it all.”
Heeger said the work is hard, but they do what needs to be done.
“We see a lot of good, but it’s all heartbreaking,” Heeger said. “People lose everything – everything they’ve worked for their entire lives is gone. It’s hard. We hope we did some good while we were there.”
None of the members of Sheep Dog Impact Assistance receive payment to go on these deployments, using their own money to travel to the towns in need, taking time off work and paying for their own food and gas.
“My commander is a Delta pilot, and he got back Tuesday night, slept a couple of hours and then got up early Wednesday to get the truck ready to go the next day,” Heeger said. A lot of us have full-time jobs. I’m a nurse. He’s a pilot. When the need comes up, if we can take off work, we will. We don’t think about it. We just go and do it.”
In addition to disaster assistance, Heeger said they are also working on a mission to provide trauma kits to every police cruiser in the state, an estimated $150,000 initiative, for which they are still trying to raise the funding.
“A lot of police are underfunded and their usually the first on the scene,” Heeger said. “This kit can provide gloves, tourniquets, basic, everyday first aid supplies so they can start rendering aid and hopefully e able to save more lives.”
Heeger said she hopes to bring a group back for community events and any time in the future when there is a need, again.
“I know what the county goes through and we just want to help,” Heeger said.
Donations can be made to the group’s Venmo, @Sheepdog IA Greater Cincinnati, and more information about the Greater Cincinnati Chapter can be found on their Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SheepDogIAGreaterCinci.