Our group arrived at COR at 7am for our day trip toJoplin. Despite predictions for 100+ degree heat, we were ready to beat the heat and sort debris. Everyone was dressed in long sleeves, jeans and boots. Our cars were loaded down with shovels, tools, wheelbarrows, extra clothes and lunches. Cheryl, our fearless leader, had us introduce ourselves and share our experiences with disaster work. After a brief orientation and a flurry of paperwork, we were ready to go. We divided up into cars, loaded our stuff and were on our way.
The trip down was easy and gave us time to get to know each other. We met the UMVIM at the parking lot in Joplinto get our assignments for the day. As it turned out, they were in need of some administration help at the Americorp offices. Cheryl had prepared us for the idea that we may not be doing debris clean-up. We would instead be dividing up into groups and working at 3 different jobs: a call center, a donation center and doing data entry. I think we had mixed feelings about the jobs. For some, it was a relief to know we would be inside and out of the intense midday heat. For others, it was a disappointment to not be in the field and working in “The Red Zone.” But we were here to serve and anxious to get started. So our team was ready to “divide and conquer!” Two of us went to the call center; six went to the donation center, and three went to do data entry.
At the call center, we were given stacks of “request for assistance” forms. We called the homeowners to see how their homes were coming and to see if they still needed assistance with the clean-up process. It was interesting to talk to these people who had been through this tragedy and watched their homes destroyed. But they had come to terms with that loss and were now mired in the process of trying to get help and get their lives back on track. Jim and I worked our way through the stacks and just tried to listen. We documented phone calls, updated their paperwork and left lots of messages. We worked with 2 Americorp volunteers from Tucson, AZ who had been in Joplin for 3 weeks. After a few hours on the phones, we went back to the tent to meet up with our team. We left wishing we could do more, but glad we could help in a small way.
At the data entry center, the volunteers were taking the assistance forms and entering them into the system. They needed to update the system so they know what homes are completed, are in process, are missing release forms, etc. This will help communication between the various organizations that are working in Joplin. It will also maximize the volunteer efforts so that they aren’t going to a house and finding it completed.
Our biggest group went to the donation center. They worked to organize the donations and put things into bags for families to pick up. For example, they put together bags with diapers, baby food, formula and wipes. They worked with a mother-daughter pair who had been volunteering at the donation center every day since the disaster. They had lost everything in the tornado and were victims themselves. Despite their own loss, they were working to bless their community and help where they can. It was one of many moments where you saw the strength and spirit of the people inJoplin.
A few of the donation center workers also went to the “Red Zone” to get some paperwork signed by 2 home owners. They had the opportunity to see firsthand the devastation these people had experienced and to hear their stories.
The day ended too quickly and our group reconvened to drive home. We drove through the red zone on our way out of town. We had all seen pictures on the news but you couldn’t fully fathom the vastness of the damage unless you had been there. For me, it felt heart-breaking, surreal and chaotic all at once. The number of homes and businesses destroyed was unreal. The tremendous amount of work still to be done feels overwhelming. How will they ever clean-up and rebuild? But we also saw some leaves growing out of the stripped and broken trees. It gave you a little sense of hope that this town will rebuild and be stronger than ever!