In July 2021, the town of Bad Münstereifel in North Rhine-Westphalia was hit by a flood. To this day, residents are struggling with the aftermath of the natural disaster. Stefan Winsel, his family and the organization “Angry thing helps!” have been doing their best to help with the reconstruction since July.
SZ: Almost six months ago you gave an interview to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The title of this article was: “People want to help”. Now, almost six months later, is that still the case?
Stefan Winsel: Yes, we still get e-mails and calls with offers from people who offer donations in kind. In particular, furniture and household items are offered to us. But because the topic is no longer so present in the media, the willingness to help naturally decreases. The moment it reappears, interest grows, but not to the same extent as six months ago when the whole thing was still up to date.
Would you like more media exposure and more help from other people?
Of course it would be important that it is not forgotten. The local need is still huge. Thousands of families have simply lost their belongings and the process of making replacements is very slow. The insurance companies are hesitant to act and only 30 or 40 percent of government funding applications have been processed. Of course, you also have to consider that many applications could not be submitted at all because those affected lost the necessary documents in the flood. And at the same time, of course, these people have a home that was also destroyed by the water that needs to be cleaned up and restored. That costs money. And every euro saved by donating food, hygiene items, furniture and the like can be used to make the houses livable again. We in Zorneding work together with aid organizations such as “Eifel for Eifel” and “step by step”, and are currently trying to help people specifically with donations of money. Transporting donations in kind, on the other hand, is an enormous effort for us, which we cannot manage at the moment.
So you would say that at the moment you prefer financial help to donations in kind?
Financial help is better right now, yes. What we can do from Zorneding is to provide targeted help, preferably with money. We collect donations, which we then use to buy specific things for one or the other family. The need has meanwhile become very individual, and ultimately there are other aid organizations on site that are much closer to those affected. Driving to the Eifel is very difficult for us. We have already done this six times, but it is more effective to buy something locally with our donations or to send donations directly to the families concerned.
How do you choose who to help?
Of course, we use social media a lot and coordinate with the local aid organizations. There are now countless self-organized groups that post needs or offers there and contact us via the Internet. For example, a person who was affected, whom we had previously supported, drew our attention to a post by another person affected. This woman’s daughter asked for a doll for her fourth birthday. We contacted the mother and told her that we wanted to buy the doll with our donations. As we talked more closely, we found out that the little one would also be happy about a dollhouse. We then launched an appeal in Zorneding and on our social media platforms and received wonderful offers. We chose one of the doll houses that were offered to us and loaded it into the car. Then we talked to the family again and had them draw up a list of items they had lost in the flood, which they published on our website and collected donations in kind. So we knew exactly what was needed and could search for it in a targeted manner. When we brought them things, from the doll to the lawn mower, everyone howled like dogs. It was a great pleasure, and then of course you are very happy to help. Through the family network that has now developed, we have been able to arrange many more contacts, donations in kind and money.
How long would you estimate it will take before Bad Münstereifel is restored to the point where it is no longer dependent on aid organizations?
What they tell us on site in terms of donations in kind and technical support: definitely another two years. As far as post-traumatic care is concerned, which is also what the association “step by step” very much cares, this will take much longer. What we try to do, which is also a selection criterion for our help, is to see where we can give one or the other person a moment of happiness. Because, of course, they are still confronted with the flood every day. Children cannot go to their normal school, but have to go to a transition school. The normal bus doesn’t run because the bridge is still broken, and trains don’t run anymore either. Friends have moved to another city. To create a change for a moment, to enable a piece of normality, that is our goal.
All this commitment must be quite exhausting and, above all, time-consuming. How does that fit into your everyday life?
That’s one of the reasons why we had to scale back the whole thing a bit, even though there was always a lot of support from the more than 25-strong team of helpers. Because it takes an incredible amount of time. And that for our whole family: my wife is just as involved as I am, my 13-year-old daughter of course always thought along and helped out, so a lot, a lot of time was wasted and a lot of family was left behind. All of this is of course a lot of work. Work that is not perceived as such because it is also a lot of fun and gives a lot back. But work that takes an awful lot of time, and our family had to drive back quite a bit to have time for us again. Donation transports are therefore no longer planned, but money can still be donated. Information on this can be found on our website.