Monday, June 6, 2011

Small-town Iowa = Big Hearts

Two weeks ago an F5 tornado hit Joplin, MO.  This followed deadly tornadoes in Alabama and Arkansas (and I'm sure other places I'm forgetting about) earlier this spring.  We live in Iowa.  We have tornadoes occasionally.  Well, we have tornado watches pretty frequently.  That means the conditions are right for tornadoes to form, usually in conjunction with thunderstorms.  And we have tornado warnings sometimes.  That means that a tornado has been spotted either by a qualified person or indicated by radar.  It's when we are under a warning that we take cover in our basement under the steps.  Our schools have tornado drills like we have fire drills.  Our kids learn early on how to react.  I'm sure in other parts of the country tornado drills are probably replaced with earthquake or hurricane drills, neither of which we practice here in the middle of the country.

Anyway, something about the Joplin tornado really struck a chord with me.  We do live close to Missouri, but Joplin is probably 5 hours away from us.  Maybe it was the news coverage of a city so devastated that there was no semblance of a building where houses, stores, and nursing homes once stood.  Maybe it was because it struck at the end the school year when I was ready to focus on something different.  Probably it was a combination of those and other factors I can't put my finger on, but for whatever reason I felt the need to do something for the people in Joplin.

Here are some links that touched my heart and help encourage me to step up and do something.
Panoramas of Joplin before and after the tornado  Click and drag on the picture for the panorama.

First-hand stories from survivors:  This one had me in tears a few times.  I think because some of the accounts are from parents around my age or that had kids my kids' ages.  I could put myself in their shoes.

Incredibly, through Facebook I found that a friend of several friends and a current resident in my small town was from Joplin originally, still has family there, and was preparing to take supplies to her hometown in the next week or so after the storm.  I sent Sarah a friend request with a note attached that we had mutual friends, I wanted to help collect supplies for her trip, and could we communicate via facebook?  She accepted.  I think she got a few other such friend requests because within the next day she created a facebook group to try to organize this relief effort that was snowballing.  Before long she had made arrangements for a 53 foot trailer and semi to move supplies from Southern Iowa to Southern Missouri.

Sarah's family and other contacts from the Joplin area have been communicating with us to make sure we are sending supplies that are actually needed and not things that will be a burden to them.  Folks don't have houses to store things like furniture, dishes, appliances.  People who just lost all of their possessions are not looking for lamps, high heels, or winter coats in June.  People who have found their lives changed so abruptly in this manner need toiletries, clean underwear and socks, paper plates, plastic-ware, baby-care items, and cleaning supplies.  They are also looking for some items that will return some normalcy to there lives like make-up, pop, and a decent bra.  Sarah's home church, First Baptist Church of Joplin will also take checks and will distribute the 100% of the funds to disaster victims with no overhead.  Over the past couple of weeks we have tried to get the word out to local churches, our thrift store, other community groups, and just common folks with big hearts.

Yesterday a group of us came together to sort our donations and start loading the trailer.  We were amazed at the generosity of so many.  We have received bags and boxes full of soaps, shampoos, lotions, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.  The police department donated many boxes of newer clothes sorted by size.  We have a few gallons of bleach.  We have cases of water.  The Murray Church of Christ came with a couple of vans full of toiletries, paper towels, toilet paper, and some non-perishable food items.  The HyVee manager and his family showed up while we were loading with a van-load of water, Gatorade, and hand sanitizer.  He called back to the store and had another employee head out with a pickup load of sturdy boxes with handles.  We had a great response from the community.  But this truck is big and we still have a lot of room.

Our efforts have gotten news coverage by the Des Moines' NBC affiliate.  (Which was the highlight of my boys' day--they are movie stars now.)  We hope that this will help us to gather more donations and fill the truck.  We have a church group heading down to volunteer in clean up in the next couple of weeks.  Plans are in the works for a group from Cross Ministries (the local thrift store) to head down later this summer as the first wave of volunteers begins to subside.  I am unable to work onsite in Joplin.  I am not in a position to write a big check.  However I am so happy to be able to assist with some smaller donations of needed items, helping to sort and load the truck, and trying to get the word out to the community and surrounding communities that there is a local effort in place to help our neighbors in need.  I am glad that my kids got to help too.  I hope it is just a piece of their development into caring, compassionate men.

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