It was after midnight when Gary Spies saw the water.
Flood waters had begun filling the garage of their home on East Military Avenue.
It was early on March 15.
“About 12:15, I was out in the garage moving some tools around. I figured maybe we’d get a few inches — if at all — and all of a sudden I heard the water gurgling behind me. I looked back and it was coming in underneath the garage doors,” Spies said.
Spies and his wife, Sheryl, left their home.
“It was about knee deep when we backed out of the garage,” he said.
The Spies returned days later and saw 9- to 10-inch water lines, indicating how high the water had risen in their home. And they’d had 2 1/2 to 3 feet of water in their garage.
“It was very dismaying — something you figured would never happen,” Spies said.
On Monday, Spies, a Vietnam veteran, sat in his garage sorting through his belongings.
But Spies wasn’t alone in his endeavors. Nearby, volunteers with the Samaritan’s Purse organization worked to prepare his home for renovation.
Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to people suffering from war, poverty, natural disasters, disease and famine.
Shortly after widespread flooding affected Fremont and nearby towns, Samaritan’s Purse program managers were in the area to determine if they should deploy volunteers to help those whose lives were impacted by the flood.
Leroy Wentz, an assistant program manager from Purlear, N.C., and a disaster relief unit then traveled more than 1,200 miles and arrived in town on March 20, stationing trailers in the Fremont Alliance Church parking lot.
The average deployment is about six weeks and Samaritan’s Purse volunteers are scheduled to remain in the Fremont area until April 20 (the Saturday before Easter), Wentz said.
As of Monday, Samaritan’s Purse had coordinated more than 600 volunteers from all across the United States, who have come to help those affected by the historic flooding.
Work has taken place in roughly a 25-mile radius of Fremont — which has included the communities of Valley, Elkhorn, Waterloo, North Bend and Winslow.
By Monday, the organization had completed 109 of the 288 requests for help. Seventy-six requests were identified as situations where people took care of the situations themselves or another organization had done the work.
As of last Saturday, 103 requests remained.
“Our primary focus for being here is to show the love of Christ,” Wentz said. “God has commanded us to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Any work we do is secondary to letting people know we care and God cares about them.”
But there’s been lots of secondary work.
Samaritan’s Purse volunteers have been taking flood-damaged belongings out of area homes. They’ve removed wet carpet and insulation, hardwood floors and sheetrock. After a house is cleaned and swept, they treat it for mold.
“We try to leave the houses in a contractor ready or rebuild ready state,” Wentz said. “When we leave, they should be ready to start putting things back together.”
The time spent on a given home can range from a couple of hours to between three and four days, depending on the size of the house, amount of damage and how big the crew is, he said.
Volunteers rotate in and out each week. Wentz said volunteers have been staying on the second floor of Fremont Alliance Church, where they’ve slept on cots and air mattresses and in sleeping bags.
Among mobile units in the church’s parking lot is a shower trailer for volunteers.
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“It’s not high living, but they tolerate it very well,” he said. “It is a mission trip, but right here at home.”
When it comes to volunteer management, there is a core group of site leaders. Volunteers are divided into teams that serve with these leaders. Depending on the number of volunteers, a team could have 10 people or 25.
“On Saturday, we had a total of 146 volunteers, because of strong local turnout,” Wentz said.
Cindy Witt of Atlanta, Ga., and Mike Titre of Arlington Heights, Ill., were among volunteers working at the Spies house on Monday.
Why go miles away from home to volunteer?
“There is a need for it. I’ve always felt led to go wherever the disasters are,” said Witt, who began as a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer during flooding in Austell, Ga., in 2009.
This is the seventh Samaritan’s Purse trip for Witt, an aviation insurance adjuster.
Titre became a volunteer after his wife got involved in a Samaritan’s Purse endeavor four years ago.
“She came home all excited and said, ‘When you retire, this is what we’re doing.’ So I retired two years ago and we’ve been doing this ever since,” Titre said.
Titre enjoys volunteer work.
“It’s fulfilling,” he said. “You can see people’s lives changed. You can see them realize that there is good in the world yet and there’s a group of people who do care for them.”
Titre gets a little choked up when recalling how touched homeowners are when they learn volunteers have come from across the country to help them.
Wentz also has noticed the effect Samaritan’s Purse volunteers and their work has had on those who find themselves in disaster situations.
“I’ve been out there to visit the teams and watch them work and the most important thing I see is not the stuff coming out of the houses, it’s the hope I see coming back in the homeowners’ eyes,” Wentz said. “They see that they’re turning a corner. They see the light at the end of the tunnel. All of the sudden, the mess that they had no idea how they were going to clean up — is suddenly cleaned up.
“We leave it nice and clean and the product we use leaves it smelling nice,” Wentz added. “It looks like a new construction site ready to be finished.”
Homeowners appreciate the volunteers’ work.
“It’s a huge blessing to them,” Wentz said. “It gives them all kinds of hope.”
Homeowners aren’t the only ones blessed by the work.
Volunteers benefit, too.
“We come thinking we’re going to bless others and we’re the ones who go home with the blessing, because we get to see the impact the ministry has and we get to be part of that and allow ourselves to be used by God and show his love to these hurting people,” Wentz said. “It’s always a huge blessing to be part of that.
Witt would agree.
“It’s why I do it on vacation,” she said. “It’s the most rewarding thing you can do if you ask me.”
Spies expressed deep appreciation for work by the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers.
“It’s been a Godsend, a real blessing,” he said. “I just can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for us. You can tell they’ve done this a few times. They’re very well organized.”
The Samaritan’s Purse crew is still taking any volunteer help until April 20. To volunteer, call 402-936-0355 or come to Fremont Alliance Church at either 7:30 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. to go through a brief orientation first and then be assigned to a team.