Three years after tornado, some Woodridge residents remain displaced

Wednesday’s The Doin’ Good BBQ designed to raise money for various housing costs

Beverly Sedlacek takes photos of a family friend's home in Woodridge on Monday, June 21, 2021 after it was damaged following a reported tornado late Sunday night, June 20, 2021.

A local Woodridge group of volunteers is hard at work helping a number of families who have been displaced from their homes for three years as a result of the devastating tornado that struck the community on Father’s Day 2021.

The tornado, which demolished 900 structures, downed thousands of trees and caused 11 injuries to the Naperville, Woodridge, Darien, Burr Ridge and Willow Springs communities, has had an unfortunate lasting impact on some residents of the Woodridge County Club condominium complex.

Woodridge Neighbors Helping Neighbors Disaster Recovery, a nonprofit formed just two months after the event, has been providing compassion and service through the long-term disaster recovery process.

To date, the group has sponsored 60 fundraisers for the families. The next fundraiser, The Doin’ Good BBQ, will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Seven Bridges Golf Club, 1 Mulligan Drive, Woodridge.

The cost is $75, which includes BBQ, entertainment and auction.

Due to a “culmination of issues,” some residents haven’t had the appropriate repairs done to allow them to return to their homes, said Woodridge Mayor Gina Cunningham.

One of the residents who is still displaced, Maria Rivas, has lived in Woodridge County Club condominiums for more than 25 years.

“For the first two years, I stayed with a friend. However, over the last year, I have jumped from family to friends back to family, every 15 days,” Rivas said.

“So that I don’t become a burden on anybody, I feel like I have been living as a hobo,” Rivas added with tears in her voice.

“I have no idea when I will be back home,” she said. “It has been a financial and emotional burden. A lot of us have PTSD from all of this.”

Initially, 24 families that live in the Woodridge County Club No. 5 condos were unable to return to their homes due to storm damage.

The following December, a week before Christmas, “a pipe burst” in part of the building, which displaced an additional 12 families, Cunningham said.

Despite not having their homes repaired in a timely manner, the impacted families are still required to pay their mortgages—if they have one, Cunningham said. In addition, they are paying rent where they are currently living, she said.

The displaced residents are still required to pay the condo homeowners assessment, even though they don’t live there, Cunningham said.

“This has been financially and spiritually devastating for these families,” she added.

Rivas added that residents also are being asked to pay a special assessment to fill an insurance gap in coverage while also seeing an increase in the monthly homeowner’s assessment.

Hers would be about $19,000 if paid in a lump sum. Otherwise, it would be larger if paid in installments.

In addition, over the three-year period, Rivas’s property taxes have increased significantly “and we are not even in our homes,” she said.

“The situation is very concerning,” said Rivas, a former condominium complex board member.

“I believe we were underinsured,” she added.

“We never saw the actual insurance policy and what would be covered in a catastrophic situation,” Rivas added.

As part of the insurance agreement, she said, the plumbing and electrical would have to be brought up to the current code enforcement, which significantly increased the repair costs.

Rivas said the Woodridge Neighbors Helping Neighbors Disaster Recovery has been “unbelievably supportive.” The money raised by the organization has been used for temporary housing including hotel stays.

In addition, other local groups have stepped up to help the Woodridge community.

St. Vincent DePaul Society is providing a “house in a box” for families, which supplies everything needed for families to start fresh including everything needed for a new bedroom or new kitchen—down to the salt and pepper shakers.

Mayors Helping Mayors, including Mayors Frank Trilla of Willowbrook and Joseph Marchese of Darien, has reached out to their businesses and community members asking for support for Woodridge, Cunningham said.

“I am so inspired by our neighbors in terms of their strength and compassion,” Cunningham said. “Both those that have been hit so hard and those helping.”

“There are beautiful stories here that have happened in the midst of a disaster,” she added.

“We are doing everything we can in a fun way and filled with hope,” she added.