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.
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.
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