Sunday, August 28, 2011


I struggle to start this post.  It's been three months since one of the most devastating tornadoes in US history touched down in my state.  Three months of seeing the destruction in the news.  Three months of hearing the stories, the hopeful and the downright terrifying.  Like most, I've wanted to help. I've also been scared to help. And mostly, I had no idea how to help.  So when my town announced they would be doing a one-day bus trip this weekend to assist in cleanup I hesitated.  Then I signed up.  I packed well for my one-day trip--water, sunscreen, close-toed shoes, and sunglasses to hide my tears.  I had no idea what our seven buses and several carloads of people would find.  You hear it's better.  You hear people are moving on, starting school, building houses.  I struggle to imagine how that works.  You also hear there's lots to do. I'm here to tell you all those statements are true.

We arrived at the buses at 3:50 a.m.  Four and a half hours later, seven hundred of us arrived at our four different volunteer sites.  Hubs, my mom, and I chose to go to the school site. We were told we would assist with cleaning debris at a school.  After being debriefed at Missouri Southern State University, we were whisked off to East Middle School.  On the way there, it was hard to tell what had been cleared and what was just empty all along.  It did seem things were moving--houses with walls.  Business with "grand opening" signs.  As we arrived at our work site, though, it almost looked like the storm had just happened.  We were told the school had only been open for one year.  It cost $18 million to build.  It suffered $14 million in damages.  Walls were torn off the school and debris was everywhere. We were given a mask, some gloves, and a good supply of trash bags and told to pick up what we could.  I remember, with the first bag, feeling I could stand in the same spot all day in the 100 degree heat and still not get all the pieces of people's lives and belongings.  Until noon, I fought the heat while I picked up roof shingles, textbook pieces, drywall, wall support, and other random objects.  Debris cleanup is fancy for trash pickup, if you were wondering.  More than 200 of us filled hundreds of bags and felt helpless in the heaps of rubble.  I could look around and see most people like me--filling a bag and then standing in disbelief that there was still this much to do.

Noon brought sandwiches and much needed relief from the sun.  I found myself sick from the sun and heat and unable to continue.  Luckily it was right then one of the Americorp leaders asked a few of us to go to another site. This site was high priority and happened to also be air conditioned.  We arrived at a school where one of the early childhood instructors had a look of relief at our arrival.  We worked in the afternoon to put together classrooms, a cafeteria, and other instruction areas.  The area had become high priority when the early childhood department was told on Friday afternoon they had to be relocated to temporary trailers so their permanent area could be used to house high school students.

It was hard not to melt as I heard the instruction-giver tell the story of standing, crying in disbelief on Friday afternoon as they threw all her classroom materials into boxes and told her the "new" classroom needed to be ready by Monday.  She kept telling us how thankful she was for the volunteers.  She didn't care where things went in the trailer--someone was helping her.  It was nice to see the instant gratification of the classroom taking shape--almost the exact opposite of the debris cleanup.  This was also the first and only time I was fortunate enough to talk to someone living through the rebuild.  Her gratefulness was overwhelming, her stories more so.  Stories of young men feeling a force throw them out of a bathtub, only to find the bathtub gone when the storm passed.  Stories like the man who found the only wall remaining in his apartment had a painting of a dove sitting in a cove of a waterfall with the caption "shelter from the storm."  We left in mid afternoon, drove through town and cried some more.

There is still so much to be done. There is also a great deal of hope.  Ninety-five percent of students were in classes when they began two weeks ago.  Forty-eight thousand volunteers have assisted the city in cleanup and rebuilding.  Supplies and volunteers continue to pour in, but there are challenges too.  More than 1,000 homes need rebuilt.  Four schools were destroyed.  Some homes and schools wait vacantly for Haz-Mat teams due to asbestos.  I will not forget my experience but more importantly, I will not forget Joplin in my prayers.  Please don't forget Joplin.  They need us still.  In prayers. In volunteering.  In monetary support.  If you want to go but don't know how, contact Americorp for information on how to be of most assistance.

I feel like I did nothing but I also know it was worth it.  For every moment the heat beat me down, I worried I wasn't doing enough.  But Joplin has a few more trash bags filled with debris. And one early childhood teacher changed my life forever. I pray she felt our difference in her heart as well.

"I am only one, but still I am one.  I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do." Helen Keller

"Share with the Lord's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality." Romans 12:13


  1. This is a great post. I'm always worried that people are going to forget about Joplin, and they still need so much help.

  2. What a great post and pictures. It's such a great reminder that even though the news has stopped the massive coverage of Joplin, there is still years worth of work still to be done. Every little bit helps - you guys are awesome!!