Five months later, volunteers help tornado victims

Wes Franklin

When Abigail Pike left her home in Lowestoft, England, to serve for nine months at Living Hope Church in St. Joseph, Mo., she did so because she wanted to put her faith to practice by helping others.

And that’s just what she did Saturday as she joined about 100 other college-age young people from as far away as Nashville, Tenn., who converged to clean up storm damage that is very much still out there from the May 10 tornado that hit Missouri .

The group, gathered from various churches around the state and country and organized by Christ Church of Joplin, was taking part in a program called Social Action Weekend, which focuses on community and humanitarian projects and was created shortly after the deadly twister earlier this year.

Split off into smaller teams, the volunteers picked up debris, built fences, and even did some interior home work in some cases for local residents whose lives were literally turned upside down by the tornado.

Pike’s group focused its time northwest of Neosho, smack dab in the middle of the tornado’s yet visible path of devastation.

“I want to use my time and energy to do good, instead of just sitting around,” Pike said. “I enjoy being out here because I think, as Christians, it’s very important to be doing things, as opposed to just sitting around and learning. We want to be active and use our time and energy for a good cause.”

Tackling a pile of debris that once had been part of someone’s home or barn, the team of about 20 had it cleaned up within minutes before moving onto a private yard.

At the same time, another 80 or so good Samaritans descended on Granby to do what they could to help out residents in that hard-hit place, which had been near the last to get smacked by the tornado before it fizzled out.

Most of them came from Kansas City, St. Louis, Joplin and everywhere inside and out that triangle.

“We have people from all over the place just coming down to help out,” stated Travis Curtice, of Christ Church and one of the Social Action Weekend organizers.

Trudy Stensland is from Minnesota but currently attends college at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. She has helped with storm recovery efforts before, as well as volunteer for such causes as Habitat for Humanity.

“I just want to be able to help other people, like those who have suffered through this tornado down here,” Stensland said in between unloading an armful of boards and tree branches onto a flatbed trailer.

The Social Action Weekend volunteers coordinated with Newton County Emergency Management and the local non-profit Long Term Care Recovery Group, a community organizations active in disaster group that organized in the aftermath of the tornado.

Parts of rural Newton County hardly look any different when they did the day after the tornado five months ago. And while monetary and in-kind donations poured in that first month after the storm, they have now dried up to a trickle, though there’s still lots of work to be done.

“The tornado cut a path from the state line to Stark City, but nobody really sees it out here,” Lankford said. “If all this damage was still left in Neosho, people would be wondering why it isn’t getting cleaned up.”

She said the group especially needs assistance from businesses. A big need at the moment is a backhoe and the COAD would be willing to pay the cost of gasoline for anyone who would donate one for a while, Lankford said.

Meanwhile, recovery efforts mainly fall on volunteer groups like the one that came in on Saturday.

“This is about neighbors helping neighbors,” Lankford said. “And right now we’re just needing to get people back in their houses before it gets cold.”

Neosho Daily News