Catfish. Bullfrogs. Crawdads.

That’s what Alanna Lee and her husband Ryan found in the basement when the flood waters hit their tri-level home in Bullock Creek in May.

The scent wasn’t exactly pleasant.

“The catfish and bullfrogs and crawfish were just sitting on our couch,” Alanna Lee said. “The level of muck was indescribable. It stunk like sewer mixed with swamp.”

The flood destroyed three of the four levels of the Lee home. They lost 85% of their belongings.

“People say to us, ‘It’s just stuff,’ and that’s true and I’m grateful for what we have,” Lee said. “But we had to spend two weeks throwing our lives away. We lost irreplaceable items like diplomas and baby items. I’m a big book collector and spent years and years amassing books that are now destroyed. These are things we collected and built our lives together. My husband built me a farmhouse kitchen table, and just like that…it was gone.”

The Broken Home

Alanna and Ryan’s 3-year-old son Logan lost most of his playroom items because of its basement location.

The flood was hard for the toddler to understand. This house was the only home he had ever known.

“Our son had a hard time expressing his emotions,” Lee said. “I tried to show him the house, and he would cling to me. He’d sit out in the car and cry. If he did walk in, he’d really struggle. We call it ‘The Broken Home’ because he understands what ‘broken’ and ‘fixed’ means. I would tell him, ‘Yep, it’s broken, but we are going to fix it’.”

The Lee family were grateful to relocate to an aunt and uncle’s local condo as they worked to piece their lives together. They had no flood insurance on their house. Despite taking inventory of what they lost—Lee took over 1,000 photos of ruined belongings—the insurance company could not help them.

“Our house sat there for months,” Lee explained. “We were paying a mortgage on a house that was just sitting there, destroyed, looking like a broken shell of our house….and in the middle of a pandemic. We felt hopeless.”

“Look for the Helpers”

Lee said the Midland County community stepped up in huge ways to help their family.

 “Volunteers came by like guardian angels to help us get the muck out of the basement,” she said. “They’d drop off food. They weren’t asking for anything. We had no shortage of cleaning supplies. There were meal trains, gift cards, water. You hear about support when really bad things happen, but to live it…” she paused with tears in her eyes. “It’s like the Mr. Rogers quote, when he says ‘Look for the helpers’ and you realize it’s real.”

They are grateful for the efforts of the disaster case managers, an integral part of the Long-Term Disaster Recovery efforts. They guide homeowners through the many layers of recovery, including connecting them to resources, advocating and providing emotional support.

The LTDRG is working collaboratively to lead recovery and rebuild efforts. Made up of a broad representation of philanthropy organizations, nonprofits, businesses, government, faith community, civic groups and schools, they are working together to chart a path forward. This includes funding, coordination of in-kind materials, construction, case management and volunteer support.

Spearheaded by the LTDRG, local organizations worked together to show support. The Midland Area Community Foundation purchased a bed for the Lee family’s son, while United Way of Midland County provided two twin mattresses.

During the holiday season, the LTDRG disaster case managers contacted the Lee family. They invited Alanna to come to United Way’s office to pick up new toys donated by the Bottomless Toy Chest organization.

“It is generosity I’ve never experienced,” Lee said. “We don’t become numb to it. I was like, ‘Wait…toys for Christmas? This is unbelievable’.”

Through the coordination of 211, Toys for Tots was also able to provide holiday gifts for the family.

Lee said the community were the true difference makers from where they were to where they are now: back in their home in Bullock Creek.

“Without our community, the disaster case managers and the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Group, I don’t know where we’d be,” she said. “We would have to walk away from our home. We’d be many steps back from where we are at now. The community is 100% making a difference. It’s recognized and appreciated through little and big deeds. I can’t stress enough how they have helped us get through.”