- Associated Press - Saturday, July 29, 2017

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) - A matching grant challenge has generated donations surpassing $1 million for victims of the May 16 tornado that devastated parts of Barron County.

Businessman and philanthropist Foster Friess, a Rice Lake native, announced a $1 million challenge grant program a week after the EF3 tornado tore an 83-mile path through Polk, Barron, Rusk and Price counties after visiting Prairie Lake Estates, a trailer park just north of Chetek where more than two dozen homes were destroyed.

More than 700 individuals and organizations from across the country have donated $376,555 so far to the Tornado Disaster Relief Fund, which is administered by Red Cedar Church in Rice Lake, officials announced Monday. But the fund will continue to accept donations because the matching grant challenge extends through the end of the year.

Friess decided to exceed the match and donated $650,000 to bring the fund’s balance to about $1.02 million, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told the Leader-Telegram .

“Our Christian faith tells us that whatever breaks God’s heart should also break our hearts,” Friess said in a news release. “It was a pretty easy decision to see that these hard-working folks needed some encouragement, and I am so impressed how this community has come together with such widespread generosity. Our family is advancing the $650,000 in hopes it will encourage even more donations by the year-end deadline.”

Throughout the recovery process, Fitzgerald stressed he has been impressed with how the community has stepped up to help people whose lives were upended by the storm, which he said destroyed 33 homes and caused major damage to 36 others in Barron County.

“It’s awesome,” Fitzgerald said. “It makes me Barron County proud.”

Red Cedar Church organized a Long Term Recovery Council including representatives of local government, religious and charitable organizations to assist in developing plans for fund disbursement.

“The response from the community has been incredible,” said council leader Ashley Rayment, outreach director for the church. “We wanted to show victims of the tornado that they are not going to walk through this alone.”

With a focus on supporting housing needs for storm victims, the news release indicated the funds will be used for Barron County residents in four primary areas: Support for housing solutions for those who had their primary residence totaled in the tornado, aid for people who need assistance for repairs beyond what insurance covered for damage to their primary residence, financial assistance for landlords who were leasing a home in Prairie Lake Estates that was damaged or totaled in the storm to reinvest in another rental home or property in Barron County and support for cleanup and improvements at Prairie Lake Estates, including the possibilities of a community building, playground and cement pads.

“The Long Term Recovery Council has worked hard to develop a plan that focuses our community’s donations directly on those who were most impacted by the May tornado,” Fitzgerald said.

People can apply for aid beginning Wednesday and running through Sept. 26. Applications are available at Red Cedar Church or on its website. Money will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, with all grants contingent on the availability of funds.

A team of volunteer financial coaches from local churches and nonprofits will work with eligible grant recipients to determine needs and build plans to meet those needs.

The relief fund also is supporting the purchase of new furniture for 20 affected families in partnership with St. Vincent de Paul.


Information from: Leader-Telegram, https://www.leadertelegram.com/

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