A grassroots community watch group has been formed to support Ellicott City businesses as Main Street fully reopened July 20 following a May flood.
“There was no one to help them maintain security and no one to welcome people back to the neighborhood in a safe way,” said Kat Forder, owner of a photography business in Catonsville, who has been helping to coordinate the program.
Forder said volunteers walk along Main Street, answering questions from the public, looking out for “curious” people and helping shop owners clean up flood debris.
Forder said some of the volunteers go to work for eight to nine hours a day and then help with the community watch group for a few hours each night and on weekends. There have been about 30 volunteers, Forder said.
“We’re a network by ourselves and so when one small business does well, everybody does well,” Forder said.
On Wednesday in the late afternoon, Kim Pelech was in the middle of her 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. shift for the community watch group. Pelech is volunteering every day for the rest of the week.
“There’s great spirit of everyone around here helping,” Pelech said.
Pelech said the business owners and contractors. “use us as a resource. They like having someone else around.”
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, which has served as a hub for the community during both floods, is assisting with the effort.
The Rev. Anjel Scarborough, who has been priest-in-charge since November 2017, said that the efforts of the community watch group is to “give those folks on Main Street a little extra peace of mind as Main Street reopened.”
The church is providing brightly colored fluorescent vests with “OEC Community Watch” printed on the back, and flashlights, for volunteers and is serving as a central rallying spot. OEC stands for Old Ellicott City.
Scarborough said the church is providing spiritual and emotional care that sometimes gets lost in the disaster recovery process.
In addition to the church’s regular worship, the church will begin offering healing circles in the fall, where experts in dealing with trauma counseling will work with community members. Beginning on Aug. 11, Sara Beth Dukes, a local acupuncturist, will offer free trauma release acupuncture sessions on Saturday’s at the church, according to Scarborough.
With the volunteers answering questions from curious onlookers, “we have taken off pressure of [shop owners] to answer questions and re-tell their stories,” Scarborough said. “There is no need for them to relive trauma.”
Scarborough said that the church has received “great feedback” from the business owners.
Julia Sanger, co-owner of Park Ridge Trading Co., said the community watch groups gives her peace of mind and allows her to sleep better at night.
“Right now we are boarded up, the only thing between the public and us is a thin piece of plywood,” Sanger said.
Having the volunteers walk Main Street is an “extra set of eyes,” that allows of Sanger not have to worry about someone breaking into the store.
Sanger, of Ellicott City, owns the gourmet food and kitchen tools store with her mother Donna Sanger, who lives in West Friendship.
The shop, lower Main Street, opened two-and-half months before the July 2016 Ellicott City flood.
In mid-September, the shop is moving into a temporary space uphill, through the fall and holiday seasons, Julia Sanger said. The mother-daughter duo will reassess around the end of January as whether or not they will move back into their original space.
“We need to have some sense of security as to what the [Howard] county plan is,” Julia Sanger said.
For now, the community watch group is operating through Aug. 5, however, there is no set deadline as to when the volunteers will stop. Forder said that each week the group meets with business owners to “continue to assess the need.”
Julia Sanger said it is “amazing” how so many people are willing to give their time and volunteer.
“This is something that they decided to do completely on their own, it wasn't something that anybody forced them into,” Julia Sanger said.