Journey to Joplin: Day 1
Follow Terri O'Neill, founder of Hope and Friendship Ministries and director of community/human services for Lemont Township, as she spends a week in Missouri assisting tornado clean-up efforts.
On Sunday, May 22, a violent EF5 tornado—the seventh deadliest in United States history—ripped through the town of Joplin, Mo.
The storm killed 159 people, injured more than 900 and tore down thousands of homes and buildings. The damage, which affected about 75 percent of the town, was estimated to be more than $1 billion.
Joplin, as residents knew it, was gone.
Pastor Colton Johnson, the worship leader from Calvary Church in Lemont, announced earlier this month that he was rounding up volunteers to travel to Joplin to assist with the rebuilding and clean up during the week of July 17-22. The thought occurred to me, when he mentioned this, that we could go bigger and provide more relief and collect more aid if we had Lemont Township adopt Joplin Township, collecting in kind donations as well as financial donations and deliver the donations when we arrive to assist.
Joplin was already a town that suffered with high unemployment and low income levels, and now is in the midst of trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and move forward. The media covered the event for a couple days- just over a month later the needs and devastation still remains tenfold.
This blog will document our efforts in Joplin.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Day 1: Monday, July 18
We entered Joplin at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night. The road our hotel is on is a typical busy tourist stop—hotels, restaurants, gas stations. At first glance, there's no sign of anything out of the “ordinary," but almost immediately the abnormalities became quite apparent.
Along the highway for 80 miles prior to arriving at Joplin were signs telling “tornado volunteers” what exit would be best to use. The excessive amount of trailers and haulers in the hotels lots was hard to miss.
When I walked out of the hotel Monday morning I walked past two emergency workers who were sitting in the lobby having breakfast. The front page of the Joplin paper was not filled with articles on “who said what to whom.” It told stories of volunteers attempting to save pictures from the wreckage and a survivor meeting her rescuers.
The flags are all at half-staff, very eerie when you realize why they are; and in front of one of the hotels the neon sign was rolling a message that impounded a feeling of survival: “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. Thank you to all volunteers.”
At that, one knows that Joplin is and will remain far from an ordinary stop.
Just over two weeks ago, Colton Johnson, a pastor at Calvary Church, mentioned that he would like to round up a group to travel with him and meet up with his parents, who would be traveling from Iowa, to join forces to assist in the rebuilding stage that Joplin was entering. The idea of rounding up donations was instant and easy, offering to join him came only out of guilt.
How can I ask and expect others to step forward and help me with projects that help those in our community if I couldn’t offer to step forward and join Johnson assisting a community that was close to his roots and one that needed more than an offering of donations?
The collection of tools, water and donations came pouring in from the Lemont community. In the days prior to our departure, the Lemont Township office was busy with drop-offs of water, gift cards, money donations and tools of every kind.
I saw tools come in that I couldn’t tell you how to use, but from the reactions of those who knew I could tell we would be offering some very needed items for an area of this community that couldn’t find a hammer two weeks ago.
When we arrived, Colton Johnson’s mother and father were amazed at the contents of my Durango and of Tim’s pickup truck. She said to me that she wished they had someone in their community that would help like I did, and I told her it wasn’t me: "It was my community that helped like that.”
I have again and again been reminded that I live in a community of heart and compassion. At my first email for requests I immediately received responses. During the last two days before I left, I couldn’t keep up with the donations. I had to empty and reorganize the packing of the Durango three times.
Every single offering will be used and will be appreciated—the ladder, the cases and cases of water and Gatorade, the pick axes, the shovels, racks, hammers, nails, sealant, work gloves and goggles.
And the two bags of toys, an offering from two young friends who took the time to pack one bag of toys for boys and one bag of toys for girls. I carefully placed those behind my seat to keep them from being damaged because, to me, they symbolized this compassionate effort to help our neighbors.
I asked you to offer what you could to those that needed so very much, and you came through as you always do. What was given was given selflessly and is being delivered with care to those that need the help and kindness of those they will never meet.
Ten hours is too close to home for us to ignore how quickly this tornado changed every person’s life here, and not too far of a distance to journey to offer whatever we can.