Few shops are operational and many shops will never re-open. Those that are open only have half their production staff and are scheduling work more than two months out. Living quarters are at a premium and technicians have migrated and restarted their lives in other communities. Many want to return to their birthplace, but the uncertainly of housing and the financial burden of relocating in such an unsettled environment keeps them away.
"Those that are here, really want to be here," claims Paul D. Reynolds, Body Shop Manager at Mossy Motors, a New Orleans GM dealership, family owned and operated since 1934.
In a visit to the region, Collision Industry Relief (CIR) Chairman Michael Quinn and Relief Specialist Janet Chaney were shown, first hand, the path to recovery and the hand the Collision Industry Relief organization has played.
One example of recovery is De Russy Motors in Waveland, Mississippi - severely damaged when the community took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina. This General Motors dealership was over five miles from the coast, yet was under ten feet of salt water. "Rotten Bayou" backed up during the storm. They crushed 267 new cars. The collision shop was a busy extension of this successful dealership. Collision Center Manager Joe DiFatta had five body techs and a painter at the time of the storm. DiFatta and every one of his people lost all their tools - approximately $30,000 in tools per tech. Their homes and everything they owned were completely wiped out.
"We were in shock," stated DiFatta. "We had no place to go, no food - we just didn't know what to do."
Otis and Mark DeRussy, owners of the dealership, quickly mobilized and started to rebuild. The DiFatta family lived in tents for a month before they received a FEMA trailer, where they still live today. DiFatta was visited by Michael Quinn and I-CAR regional manager Jeff Peevy in January of 2006. Quinn promised help with tools and immediate necessities and put him in touch with Jordan Hendler of the National Auto Body Council who administers the CIR disaster relief. Quinn also promised to stay in touch and return in the summer.
In the mean time, Hendler promised tools and spray guns. The day the first tool box from CIR rolled into DeRussy Motors, DiFatta and his crew were overcome with emotion. DiFatta said, "At that very moment, we knew we were going to be all right. We were open for business. We now can earn a living for our families, help get people in our community mobile again and create income for our dealership. The first vehicle we delivered was a very emotional moment. It's amazing what you can do with basic tools."
Simply having tools to get the job done and deliver customer cars is taken for granted by many of us. Imagine the unimaginable - it did happen. To date, CIR has assisted over 100 collision industry professionals and their families.
"Some insurers in the region are shipping damaged cars over 300 miles away to Houston, Texas for repairs," Quinn stated. "Based on the recent donation by Allstate Insurance to our efforts it is clear that a healthy collision repair industry is critical to insurers as well."
It will be through a united effort such as this that insurers, repair associations, suppliers and individuals can help to insure that those in our industry get at least some help from our industry. If it were you in their situation, who would you turn to? Where would your help come from? Who do you think would understand your situation? Collision Industry Relief is preparing now for the future. Please consider making a donation or conducting a fundraising project. You, or yours, may be the next one to need help.
For information on how to donate, please visit www.collisionindustryrelief.org or send checks to: Collision Industry Foundation Relief Effort, PO Box 3007, Mechanicsville, VA 23116. Questions can be answered at 888-66-PRIDE (888-667- 7433). All donations are tax-deductible.