Two-thirds of the city funding set aside to ease the financial burdens of the Winston Weaver Fertilizer plant fire was never distributed to residents. An update provided Wednesday at a community meeting marking the one-year anniversary of the fire raised questions about outreach efforts.
In the weeks after the crisis, $1 million was set aside to reimburse residents who were forced to cover the costs of the multi-day evacuation. The city of Winston-Salem chose the nonprofit Experiment in Self-Reliance (ESR) without a formal bid process to manage and distribute the fund.
At Wednesday's meeting, ESR Director Twana Roebuck confirmed that the program officially closed in July, having only distributed about a third of the funding. She says confusion about lawsuits could have contributed to lower interest.
“I'm not sure. I think the people that were interested in receiving our services came forward," said Roebuck. "I think there was a mixed conversation in the community as it relates to if you were involved in a lawsuit, whether or not you could get help.”
ESR held a community information fair and created a website and phone line to get the word out. At the meeting, representatives from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust championed the outreach efforts of their grantee Greater Winston-Salem, Inc., which went door to door to make businesses aware of available financial relief and eventually distributed all allotted funding.
When asked whether ESR used similar tactics, Roebuck replied:
“Yes. We had people go not as much door to door as we participated in community meetings, various churches in the area had community talk sessions. And so that's where we went," said Roebuck. "We did not necessarily go door to door. No.”
But one resident says their message didn’t reach him. Joaquin Flores says he didn’t apply for funds because he wasn’t aware they were available.
“No one has come, no one, and we live really close to the plant.“
A total of 656 families received assistance. For context, roughly 6,500 people live in the former evacuation area.
**Editor's note: This story was edited to clarify the translation of Joaquin Flores's quote.