Help in place for Kansans recovering from wildfires

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As firefighters start to head home after a week of fighting wildfires in Reno County, several families in Kansas begin putting life back together.

Several agencies are there to help. Sunday, they gathered to form a resource center that opened in Reno County.

It's about more than just the physical things that everybody needs after a disaster, bottled water, baby wipes, even buckets of cleaning supplies.

But then there are the insubstantial things like what do you do about electricity when your house is gone? They gathered experts in all of that on the Kansas State Fairgrounds.

"We have some really good friends, our dearest of friends have lost their house," said Lisa Gleason.

Last week, Gleason didn't know if she'd have a home to go back to as wildfires threatened her entire neighborhood.

"We are blessed that our house was spared, so they're staying in our basement right now," she said.

This weekend, she's helping those who did lose homes, in her position as the executive director of the United Way in Reno County. Her organization and others are members of VOAD - Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. They set up in one room at the same time on Sunday to help area fire victims.

While there, they handed out the basics, like emergency hygiene packs. They also helped folks sign up for aid packages, and figure out the intricacies of things like making a home insurance claim.

"And that's how a small community reacts though," Gleason said. "Is that we link arms and we figure out how to work through this together."

Even as they hand out advice and aide, others are bringing more in.

"What's amazing is how many people are coming together to try to support those who have been victims of the wildfires," said Gleason.

Folks like Sherri Simmons, who's friend got burned out. Simmons helped her, then came over to deliver a little more help for others. Not much. Her donation is a case of bottled water and a bag of goodies. It's what she can afford.

"I just know that if it were me I would want people to help," Simmons said.

This isn't the end of the help that will be provided. The agencies in Reno County say they'll be around to provide aide as long as it's needed, for a year or more.

A similar VOAD resource center will open up in Clark County on Tuesday at Ashland High School. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you can't make one of the VOAD events, you can still get help through the United Way, or make donations. Just call 211.