Governor Peter Shumlin has decided to replace his inaugural ball with an open house at the Statehouse to help raise additional money for the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. The event will be free and open to the public.
The Fund has raised almost $6.5 million for victims of Irene and it’s provided over $2.5 million in direct assistance to more than 250 cases.
But the Fund estimates that it will need an additional $3.5 million to meet the needs of people affected by the storm.
The Governor is hoping that individuals and businesses that traditionally make a donation to the Inaugural Ball, will now help the Disaster Relief Fund and selling more "I Am Vermont Strong" license plates is also a top priority.
"Every 50,000 plates that we sell raises another million dollars towards our ten million dollar goal for the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund," said Shumlin. "So we’re going to have a great open house."
National Life vice president Chris Graff is a board member of the Disaster Relief Fund. He says requests for assistance are still coming in.
"We have known that there’s an increase this fall of cases where mold was becoming a problem, things that people did not know about. Also as each piece of this puzzle comes together if people are denied aid at something that they thought they could get, and eventually they may end up with us," said Graff. "It’s a very complicated process to make sure all the pieces go together and at the end of the line we’re there."
Annmarie Bolton is one of hundreds of Vermonters who have been helped by the Fund. Her mobile home, just outside of Montpelier, was destroyed by the flood waters of Irene.
FEMA covered the cost of renting an apartment and the Disaster Relief Fund made it possible for her to put together enough money for a down payment on a house.
"I’ll be honest, if it wasn’t for the Disaster Relief Fund I would probably still be in my apartment and unclear of where or how I’m going to buy a home," Bolton said. "And so it’s because of all the generosity of Vermonters that my dream was made possible."
And Fund Board member Graff thinks the state’s business community will have a positive response to the open house approach.
"We know that two years ago people were willing to pay a lot of money to see the Governor dance, we think they’ll pay a lot more to not see him dance," Graff said, smiling.
The Open House will take place beginning at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10.