Editor’s note: Saipan Tribune’s latest series will feature everyday heroes who are taking part in recovery efforts and assisting those in need after Typhoon Soudelor devastated Saipan.
A white piece of paper taped to a wall with their mission statement written in black ink is what drives the members of United 4 Saipan.
“A grassroots volunteer group providing access to water and essential necessities for people affected by Typhoon Soudelor,” the paper reads.
Headed by Saipan Golf owner and instructor Jenny Hegland, the organization, known as U4S, has delivered nearly 17,000 gallons of water to people in need across the island along with canned food, milk, diapers, and other basic necessities.
Five days after Typhoon Soudelor made landfall, Hegland, who has resided on island for just six months, saw a need for immediate relief for the island community. It was clear days later that people, especially those in isolated areas, did not have the means to receive aid offered by the government.
“In a natural disaster like this, what is needed is a multifaceted diverse approach happening simultaneously,” she told Saipan Tribune. “…The government hasn’t been able to deliver water directly to people’s doors, but we have and that is the role we can fill right now. Hopefully, that is an inspiration for other business to be involved with us.”
Organizations like the American Red Cross, Marianas Young Professionals, Salvation Army, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Karidat as well as local businesses have already contributed resources to U4S’ efforts.
Hegland hopes that more collaboration with government organizations will occur so that U4S can procure even more aid to distribute to those who need it the most.
“Honestly it is a matter of life and death in some situations. There are families who at this point, have sanitation, hygiene, and disease problems,” she added.
Hegland explained that the organization’s light structure allows it to provide immediate relief, unlike the red tape that local and federal government entities comply with.
“This immediate relief is really important. We have it because we have light structure, because we organize quickly, and we are not tied to major funding sources, so that allows us to act quickly,” she noted.
U4S is largely funded by donations through its GoFundMe page, which has raised over $20,000.
Volunteer and former Special Forces soldier Cole Morril was deployed to Iraq three times and Afghanistan twice in his 10 years of service before coming to Saipan. “It’s like being deployed again,” he told Saipan Triune.
“You really get to get into it and go door to door and see the good that you are doing. Most of these people don’t have the means to get where they need to get what they need. I’m super impressed with Jenny and all the other members,” he added.
A two-car operation is what delivers aid to isolated villages like Kagman last week.
Volunteer Grace Orcajo was misty-eyed when giving food to one family, who can’t leave their home to register for aid because of their isolated location.
“They don’t want to go to the shelter. They don’t want to leave their houses,” she said. “Sometimes staying in a shelter is hard. They have animals to take care of.”
Another typhoon victim the group visited, a mother of two, must clear the rubble from her collapsed home, so that she can set up a tent provided by FEMA after they left the shelter.
“We already applied to FEMA…they haven’t come but I need to clean so I have a place to set my tent,” the resident told U4S members.
Although she and her family registered for FEMA assistance, they won’t be able to know when it’s time for their interview because they no longer have power to make phone calls.
“I registered online, I called, when we were in the shelter…but now the phone is dead so I am trying to find a way to call them back,” she said.
United 4 Saipan continues to provide aid to those who can’t reach it. This past weekend, the group spent hours informing residents in remote parts of the island of the tropical storm and urged them to seek shelter.
To donate, volunteer, or seek help from United 4 Saipan call 670-484-4357 (HELP).