Downingtown residents, volunteers pull together after Ida's damage

Coordinators say they could use more volunteers, monetary donations, and cleaning supplies.

Monday, September 6, 2021
Chester Co. residents pull together after Ida's damage
Residents in Downingtown, Pa. look to recovery after flooding from the remnants of Ida heavily impacted the area.

DOWNINGTON, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Across the street from the Downingtown train station, there is a large parking lot for all of the commuters.

But, right now, there's no room for cars because the parking lot is full of debris. The items are what was destroyed in homes throughout the borough after Ida brought historic flooding to the Brandywine Creek.

"I've been here 27 years and never seen this," said Keith Boyer.

But something else the community has never seen is also happening right now: a massive volunteer effort to help residents recover.

"Just through social media, word of mouth, getting connected with different people. It's just, okay how can we as a community step up and start cleaning up," said Jason Houck of Downingtown, who helped organize Monday's cleanup that filled the train station's parking lot.

A lot of the ongoing volunteer efforts have been organized by community members like Houch, Bruce Harlan, and Jackie Sharp with help from companies like A.J. Blosenski, which provided dumpsters at the sites.

"God has been working these streets in ways that we can't even begin to explain," said Sharp. "Hundreds (of volunteers). We have a whole crew out in the borough and surrounding streets that are removing debris."

Part of the effort has been to put displaced residents into extended stay hotels. Much of the organization has happened on the community's Facebook page Downingtown Borough Community Page, with individuals, organizations, and a large number of students showing up to help.

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The page is also where residents have posted their needs, and volunteers have posted the availability of services and supplies.

Coordinators say they could use more volunteers, monetary donations, and cleaning supplies.

"All I had to do was unlock my basement, and they were in my basement taking everything out," said Matisha Ingram, whose father, a Vietnam veteran, had his home flooded.

One local organization took a huge hit in the flood. The school Preparing Adolescents and Adults for Life (PAAL) has been closed since last week when floodwaters overtook the building.

The school focuses on teaching children and young adults life skills that can give them some level of independence.

"Numb, sad, nauseous. It just gets worse," said PAAL founder and executive director Gloria Satriale.

The closure means that special needs students who rely on the school won't have the services immediately available.

Insurance isn't covering any of the damage for PAAL since the nonprofit didn't have flood insurance on the building.

Volunteers cleanup Schuylkill River Trail after Ida impacted the region

"The Brandywine Creek hasn't flooded in 100 years," said Satriale.

Hoping to rebuild and reopen, PAAL created a GoFundMe page. Parents like Caprice Shortell, whose 18-year-old son Ryan attends the program hopes PAAL's resources will return to help her son.

"It's heartbreaking," she said, "Because it's the first school my son has ever felt at home."

David Eaton, 20, who also lives with Autism, hopes the recovery efforts move quickly to reopen the place he loves-particularly the newly-built gym that PAAL used to offer.

"I really want you guys to rebuild it," Eaton said.