St. Joseph County still waiting on post-tornado aid for individuals

St. Joseph County Emergency Services Director Erin Goff (foreground), and Executive Director of the St. Joseph County United Way Kelly Hostetler (background), address the county commission on Tuesday, June 18. (Frank Stanko|Watershed Voice)

An 88-year-old St. Joseph County woman spent two days after the May 7 EF-2 tornado alone in traumatic distress. While trees crumbled around her home, the woman watched and prayed. 

Kelly Hostetler, executive director of the St. Joseph County United Way, shared the woman’s story during a Tuesday, June 18 meeting of the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners. What the woman went through gives her goosebumps, Hostetler said. 

“She said she couldn’t believe that it was happening. She said that she thought, ‘I can’t be dying in this way,’” Hostetler said. 

Hostetler and a member of Colon Community Fire and Rescue attended to the woman on May 9, responding to a distress call from her Meals on Wheels provider. The woman was safe, just in distress, and ultimately able to receive medication and care from her family. 

“We opened up a fund at United Way for the tornado victims,” Hostetler said. “We’ve raised over $18,000. I shouldn’t even say ‘raised,’ because there were no fundraising efforts. It was just out in the community.” 

St. Joseph County Emergency Services Director Erin Goff gave an update on emergency declarations and aid arrangements earlier in the meeting. A local state of emergency was declared due to the severe damage, Goff said. From there, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also declared a state of emergency. 

“The issue there is that neither of those two declarations really make financial assistance available to individual property owners or residents. That’s a difficult conversation to have sometimes,” Goff said. 

On June 6, Whitmer requested a presidential disaster declaration for St. Joseph County. As of June 18, that request was pending. If there is a presidential declaration, Goff said, there is the potential for individual assistance becoming available. Updates will be given. 

“I’m also really proud to work with a team that responded to this disaster the way this one did,” Goff said. “It’s hard work, for long hours, and I never heard a single complaint from anybody.” 

Goff specifically thanked Colon Fire Chief Matthew Overholt for his leadership and how the fire department served as a hub for assisting residents, including food and water distribution. 

All seven county commissioners attended Tuesday’s meeting. The next meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 16 in Centreville, Michigan.