Helfer Shuttle(Helper Shuttle)
The Helper Shuttle was set up in July 2021 following the devastating flooding of the Ahr river in Germany. After the catastrophic destruction, people from all over Germany and abroad wanted to help. There were so many people trying to get into the affected areas that they blocked the roads for the fire and civil defence trucks. So the police felt they had to close the streets to civilians. Thomas Pütz and Marc Ulrich, two businessmen from the area, started to organise a bus shuttle for the helpers. They wanted to enable the spontaneous volunteers to help effectively without blocking the official relief efforts.
Volunteers, whether ordinary people with no previous experience or those with craft skills and equipment, were able to register via a website. Those without tools or protective equipment were provided with materials donated by partners. The industrial area of the “Innovation Parc Rheinland” was chosen as the base camp. Located close to the motorway and the affected area, but not affected itself, it was easy to reach and had large car parks and plenty of space. Volunteers from further away were able to camp nearby. In the morning, there was a briefing for the day and breakfast before everyone was divided into groups and bussed to their work sites. The “Helper Shuttle” set up a website where affected residents could register and ask for help. Volunteer team leaders were able to choose the task for their group. Most of the work was clean-up, such as shovelling mud out of houses, knocking plaster off walls, clearing debris, or helping small businesses such as wine producers to clear their vineyards. In the late afternoon, the buses picked up the volunteers and took them back to base camp. There was a debriefing, praise for the volunteers and dinner donated by local caterers.
The Helper Shuttle was founded three days after the flood disaster in July 2021. The original relief operation lasted eleven months. At its peak, more than 1,000 volunteers were recruited and driven to work sites every day, and in total of more than 1,000,000 hours of work were performed.
At the end of the eleven months, due to the reduced need for clean-up work, the managers decided to adjust their offer. The website has been renamed “Spenden Shuttle” (Donation Shuttle). Affected people can still post requests for help and volunteers can respond, but the shuttle buses have been shut down and the base camp has been removed. The new focus is on raising funds for affected people and institutions, and providing recreational activities such as holidays for local residents.
The Helfer Shuttle made such an impact in Germany that it received the highest attention and the founders were awarded the Order of Merit of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate.
The Helfershuttle was set up independently of formal relief efforts to organise the large number of spontaneous volunteers, to provide a structure for them and to bring together volunteers and those in need of help. Due to the large number of volunteers, the initiative quickly became very large, so it was expanded and reached a high level of professionalism.
As the need for clean-up work diminished, the focus of the relief effort shifted to filling the gaps left by the floods. Reconstruction work continued on a small scale, and the new priority is donations and recreational activities for the affected people.
The action was born out of a situation where a lot of help was needed, but the masses of people who wanted to help were hindering the official aid providers. In order to provide help as quickly and uninterruptedly as possible, only official aid organisations were allowed access to the affected areas. The initiators of the shuttle saw that there were many people in need of help and that many informal helpers wanted to help, but they were not allowed to block the access routes of the official aid organisations. To solve this problem, the initiators of this solution used their expertise from other fields (business, logistics, networking) and found a creative solution to transport the unofficial helpers to the affected areas without getting in the way of the official relief efforts.