Howard County community continues to assist Ellicott City flood recovery through fundraising, volunteering

At first, Columbia resident Caroline Pyon thought little of the flash flood alerts lighting up her phone Memorial Day weekend. But as she continued to watch the news, she became worried. Pictures showed Ellicott City’s historic Main Street, where her wedding was scheduled to take place less than two weeks later, submerged.

“I was just hoping that even if they flooded, they would be able to clean up and have everything ready by our wedding date,” says Pyon, 22.

But her venue, Main Street Ballroom, would be in no shape for her nuptials. Ellicott City’s second devastating flood in two years left the historic district closed to visitors for weeks — and left many businesses facing a long recovery or the prospect of closure.

Since then, good Samaritans have come out in force, launching fundraisers and volunteering their time to help those affected by the flood. They’ve helped couples relocate and reschedule their weddings, made space for businesses that were displaced and raised thousands of dollars to help their neighbors get their lives and livelihoods back on track.

Saving the big day

The day after the flood, Kati Brown wanted “to put boots and gloves on and help” with cleanup. But she decided her expertise in event planning might be of more use.

The manager of global internal events at Under Armour contacted Main Street Ballroom owner Kate Ansari and put her team to work helping the displaced brides and grooms find new venues and vendors.

They got in touch with at least eight couples, including Pyon.

Brown helped Pyon and her husband Brandon Weber, 24, move their June 9 wedding to The Winslow, an industrial-style venue in South Baltimore similar to Main Street Ballroom. in hopes of matching the style at Main Street Ballroom. Brown was able to negotiate $1,000 off the venue price, Pyon said. (Ansari, meanwhile, offered full refunds to couples with weddings booked through July, totaling $60,000 in reimbursements.)

“She went above and beyond. … She really acted as sort of a wedding planner and coordinator and did more than we asked her to do in a good way,” says Pyon, adding that Brown stayed for their entire wedding, helping set up and keep everything organized. The event went off so smoothly that most people were surprised that plans had changed at all, she said.

Julia Tolson Harris, 23, echoes that gratitude for Brown’s help. Harris, who recently moved from Laurel to New York, was able to move her June 16 wedding reception to a tent at her church with Brown’s assistance.

“I have never felt so much joy and peace about something that should be so tragic,” Harris says. “Kati was definitely like an angel to me. … She helped with every responsibility that was not filled or needed,” including assisting with the rehearsal.

“My wedding was far better than I could have imagined. … Reality was better than the dream,” Harris says.

For Brown, meeting the couples and helping them with their weddings was a rewarding experience.

“Anytime that you get to be involved in somebody’s wedding day, it’s a great day,” she says. “Were there little challenges? Of course there [were]. There always are with weddings, but the days went off beautifully. I’m really proud to have been a part of it.”

Making space

What started as a temporary place to work has become a permanent new home for the staff of Salon Marielle, a hair salon whose Ellicott City location was damaged by the flood. The staff of seven has joined the ranks of Clarksville’s Victoria & Albert Hair Studio since owner Christie Kaier made space for them in her salon.

“I didn’t know how many people they had,” she said of learning about Salon Marielle’s situation. “I immediately responded for her to please come to the salon.”

Maryanne Mederios, owner of Salon Marielle for the past 18 years, was appreciative of the support.

“No one wanted to go back,” she says of the old Main Street salon. “it wasn’t going to work. I didn’t want to do it, but I’ve had a good run. …You can’t fight nature.”

Kaier is excited to have a staff of 23 to fill the 3,500-square-foot salon.

The former Salon Marielle staffers “have great personalities. They have fit in,” she says. “It has really been a blessing how easy the transition has been.”

Elsewhere, there have been similar stories of area businesses making space for those displaced by the floods.

Catonsville’s Rooster + Hen, a family-owned food market less than two miles from Main Street, welcomed Sweet Cascades Chocolatier into its store while the candy marker’s Ellicott City spot was repaired.

“What a great home it was for a little while,” says Sweet Cascades owner Susan Whary. “We just have the best community.”

Joe McRedmond, who owns Rooster + Hen with his wife, Alison Smith, jumped at the chance to assist Whary.

“I immediately said yes,” says McRedmond, who owns the grocery store with his wife Allison Smith. “Everyone wants to help these businesses live and survive.”

Rooster + Hen also hosted pop-ups for displaced businesses like Primitive Beginnings and Macha Timeat the end of June. And the store will continue to house a six-foot case with 30 varieties of candy from Sweet Cascades.

Rob’s Barber Shop in Ellicott City allowed Envy Salon to set up shop for a month following the flood.

“They took stations that we didn’t use. They transferred all their calls to a cell phone. They set up their reception next to ours. It’s been great,” he says.

Whittaker, who opened his doors to businesses during the flood in 2016, says it was a no-brainer to assist again this year.

“They risked the chance of going out of business,” he explains. “I would hope that if I was in that situation someone would help me out.”

Raising funds

Community Foundation of Howard County, the lead organization for raising and distributing funds for flood-related causes in Howard County, has collected $400,000 so far. In 2016—when it was not in a lead position—the foundation collected $160,000.

The executive director of Ellicott City Partnership—who would not disclose an exact amount of money raised in the recent Ellicott City flood recovery efforts— says that they have received less than half of the $1.85 million donated following the 2016 flood.

“It’s way behind where we were in 2016. I imagine there’s some people who are reluctant to give this time around. I imagine some people are wondering why give their money if it is going to do it again,” says Maureen Sweeney Smith, executive director of the Ellicott City Partnership.

“We are not in competition with Howard Community Coordination,” Smith explains. “Whether the money goes to Howard County or goes here, we are working as one.”

One of the biggest donations to the Ellicott City Partnership came from MileOne Autogroup whose Heritage Toyota Catonsville teamed with Ellicott City Partnership to relaunch, Back On The Road, a $50,000 initiative that provides support those who lost their vehicles in the May 27 flood.

“We’re a part of the community,” says Mark Westerman, chief marketing officer for MileOne Autogroup. “We helped years ago. We were anxious to help this year. We want other businesses and people to get back up and running. It’s important to these businesses. And it’s important to the community.”

Almost 200 vehicles suffered significant damage or were destroyed by the flood, according to a prepared statement by Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman.

"Grants from this generous donation from MileOne will be greatly appreciated by those who lost their vehicles. We depend upon companies like MileOne that are helping businesses and residents rebuild their livelihoods. The support they are giving is making a tremendous difference," he says.

A number of businesses used the crowdsourcing platform GoFundMe to raise funds following the floods.

There are more than a dozen GoFundMe efforts raising money for individual businesses. Almost all of them have fallen short of their goals.

For example, an effort for A Journey from Junk and Junk Girl has raised $4,548 of its $30,000 goal ; an effort for Ellicott Mills Brewing employees has raised $10,905 of its $100,000 goal; and an effort for Tersiguel’s restaurant raised $16,448 of its $30,000 goal.

Su Casa, a home décor store, which has been in Ellicott City since 2000, has raised $6,431 of its $150,000 goal through GoFundMe. The business also raised an additional $3,000 from private donations, according to owner Nick Johnson.

The initial funds raised—as well as through a tent sale that had in Harbor East in mid June--have allowed Johnson to keep everyone on staff. He also credited a quick cleanup of his 4,500-square-foot space by his landlord for his anticipated reopening in mid-July.

“We’ve been able to retain everybody, which expedites our ability to re-open,” he says, adding that he’s grateful for the community support.

Upcoming fundraisers

Aug. 4: Yoga Fundraiser

Avalon Yoga and Wellness Center will be offering five workshops from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Westchester Community Center, 2414 Westchester Ave. in Oella. Suggested donations are $18 for each workshop. All proceeds from this event will go to the Ellicott City Partnership. Go to avalonywc.net/ellicott-city-yoga-benefit.html or call 410-869-9771.

Aug. 16: Thursday Night Concert

The reoccurring free concert series at Turf Valley Town Center, 11075 Resort Road, Ellicott City, will dedicate its proceeds from raffles for the evening to the Ellicott City Partnership. A piece of jewelry from Smyth and a guitar from PRS Guitars are some of the items up for grabs. The band Appaloosa, a top 40 cover band, will provide the music for the free event, which will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Go to turfvalley.com for additional details.

Aug. 22: Whiskey Tasting

The Bourbon Club, a Baltimore-based group that promotes the education and consumption of bourbon while supporting local charities, is hosting a tasting at the White Oak Tavern, 10030 Baltimore National Pike in Ellicott City, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Proceeds from the event will go to Ellicott City Partnership. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased through Eventbrite.

Aug. 27: Labor of Love

For close to four decades, Toby Orenstein has been organizing Labor of Love, an AIDS benefit show. She plans to use the same variety show formula to raise money for flood victims at Howard Community College’s Smith Theater, Campus Dr, Columbia. Although ticket prices and performers have not yet been announced, Orenstein says, the event will begin at 7 p.m.The evening will likely include singing, dancing, acting and instrumental music with some commentary in between, according to Orenstein, who adds that she expects performers from New York City to attend.“We might have a wine and cheese party to raise extra money,” she says. Call 410-730-8311 for more information.

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