Overview & Strategy
Flooding in Vermont caused by torrential rains in July 2023 put downtowns and villages under water, forced residents to evacuate from their homes, washed out roads and bridges, destroyed crops, and threatened dams. The Vermont Community Foundation quickly established the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund to help to cover immediate support as Vermont moves through this crisis, as well as essential and far-reaching recovery efforts that will be needed to build back across towns and villages, farms and families, watersheds, and homes.
Whether flooded basements or the catastrophic loss of a home, people in communities of all sizes have suffered from loss, displacement, and financial burden. People need shelter immediately and into the future as they or their landlords work to rebuild – a task that will be complicated by the ongoing shortage of tradespeople combined with high demand. Shelter will also remain a necessary resource for those who were experiencing homelessness or who were tenuously housed before this disaster.
The widespread flooding and rising waters resulted in the loss of crops, greenhouses, barns, livestock, equipment, and soil. Some farmers have seen rivers carry away chunks of their land. Others have seen the water strip away their soil and expose the gravel beds below. Unharvested crops have been destroyed and/or contaminated due to sewage and hazardous microorganisms in the flood waters. This has been a critical year for farmers already hard hit by the spring frost.
Vermont’s Main Streets and local businesses have a long tradition of being community anchors. They are places where neighbors can come together; they occupy historic buildings, sponsor local sports teams and fundraisers, deliver essential goods and services, and collectively provide the entrepreneurial activity that fuels the local economy. Businesses were hit hard by this disaster, losing inventory, fixtures, and, in at least one case, an entire wall of the building’s foundation. This physical destruction is compounded for businesses and their employees who rely on the summer tourism season.
Vermont relies heavily on its nonprofit community to provide support and services covering all aspects of human need from food to shelter to arts to connection. Nonprofits in the flood areas are hampered in providing services while they deal with mold, compromised foundations, water damage, and more.
The Community Foundation is committed to getting money out the door and into the hands of those who need it most. This includes immediate assistance during the crisis as well as helping communities to build back- homes, Main Streets, community organizations, individuals and families.
This is a devastating event. Every dollar raised, every dollar allocated by state and federal government, and every dollar given will be needed. The Community Foundation is in close contact with the Governor’s office, state agency officials, other philanthropic groups, local leaders, and partners across the state.
While we are moving quickly and thoughtfully, we are also constantly collecting information from the impacted areas. As emergent needs are identified and unexpected challenges arise, the Community Foundation is able to adapt and respond in kind.
In addition to addressing immediate needs, the Community Foundation’s design for how we respond keeps one eye on the future. Recovery will be long and will be a chance to build back even stronger.
Flood Response & Recovery Grantmaking Strategy
Phase 1 – Immediate Response and Relief
Phase One is about meeting people’s basic needs as the waters recede— about keeping people fed and sheltered in emergency situations and helping those who were most directly impacted. Phase 1 will include a spectrum of fast-moving grants in multiple waves to:
- State and regional partners who have experience dealing with these kinds of crises and which can assist with temporary housing, food, clothing, case management, etc. such as the Red Cross, Vermont’s five community action agencies, and the Area Agencies on Aging, among others.
- Partners focused on getting immediate support to small businesses and farms including NOFA-VT, the Intervale, AALV, Montpelier Strong Recovery Fund, and the Main Street Flood Relief Fund. Also a partnership with the Vermont State Employees Credit Union to offer no-interest loans for individuals.
- Local efforts centered in the affected communities—such as Civic Standard in Hardwick, Woodstock Hub, Black River Good Neighbor, and the Barre Partnership – that are serving as critical resources for communities, often leading response efforts and coordinating volunteers. Also, through a partnership with Hack Club Bank, matching support for ad hoc local projects coming together to meet specific needs.
- Nonprofits whose physical spaces have been directly affected by the flooding, to help get them back up and running so that they can continue to serve their communities as quickly as possible.
Phase 2 – Building Back Communities
Once the conditions on the ground signal that emergency needs are relatively well covered, the grantmaking strategy will shift into Phase 2, which is about building back Vermont’s communities. To support a recovery that positions people, places, and the economy for the future, the fund will support and invest in the following areas:
- Housing and Shelter - including efforts to keep people sheltered while rebuilding; support for home repairs; support for those wanting or needing to think about rebuilding differently; solutions for mobile home parks impacted by the flooding.
- Farm Recovery - support for coordination efforts in getting information to farmers and helping navigate federal funding process; resources for growers who crops/products are eligible for less federal support; ensuring that all types of farms and farmers have access to resources.
- Main Street Vitality - continued recovery of existing businesses; support for new businesses and start-ups, including women- and BIPOC-owned; support for revitalization of historic buildings affected by flooding; efforts to foster connection and a sense of place in Vermont’s small towns and villages (e.g., parks, benches, public art, recreation paths).
- Mental Health and Wellbeing - crisis counseling for people who were in dangerous situations or experienced loss or injury; enhanced support for people living with acute mental health needs in flood-stricken areas; stress and psychological first aid training for local leaders; longer-term support for survivors and responders; building social connection and re-connection in communities.
Phase 3 – Community and Watershed Resilience
The third phase of grantmaking focuses on watershed management efforts to increase community resilience. Since Irene, Vermonters have been working together to be better prepared for more frequent and intense storms but there is more work to be done. Communities will need to continue to adapt to the changing climate and mitigate even more dramatic changes in the future. In this phase of grantmaking, the Community Foundation will partner closely with organizations such as Watersheds United Vermont to support local groups in identifying risks, reducing vulnerability to future storms, and helping to facilitate relationships across sectors and town borders to ensure a just recovery.