Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to Joplin, MO with a couple other women to volunteer at one of the churches that has turned into a tornado recovery center. After the tornado here at FLW, the support we received from all across the country was so abundant that I felt it was important to pay it forward.
I have seen numerous pictures, videos, audio about the Joplin tornado but I have to tell you nothing prepares you for seeing it first hand. I thought seeing our couple streets of houses demolished here on post were horrible (and they were, don't get me wrong) but the devastation there was remarkable. Buildings were splintered. We drove past an area that used to have a McDonald's and it was gone..nothing but rubble but the play area with slide was still standing. The Walmart parking lot looked like a place you would take wrecked cars. We drove to where the LDS church was and it was just a pile of debris. One of the contractors showed us the bathroom the 7-8 people who were in the building ran to and it was crazy because the roof was gone and there was really nothing much left. All of those people survived. As we continued to look at the building or parts of the building that were left, we came across a wall that used to be an office. Above the high desk was a pair of scissors that had been hurled in the winds and they were stuck in the concrete wall. It was bizarre to see.
This picture below was taken from that church parking lot, as you can see there is really nothing to see...broken trees and piles of rubble. That used to be lots of housing..it's all gone.
Across the street in the other direction was the high school...I wish I could have gotten a better picture of the school sign where it used to say Joplin High School. The only letters left were the "o" and "p" from Joplin and the word High. Someone put duct tape and created an "h" and an "e" so it now reads "Hope" high. It was very touching to see and so sad to see the destruction.
As you can see in the picture below, the hospital looks like a parking garage. Looking at the ruins of what used to be a community, I am amazed that there were not even more deaths. And I don't mean that in a way to take away from the losses and injuries that have been suffered. One death is one too many.
I don't know that I really did much to help the efforts but I felt like I had to do something. I know in the coming days, weeks and months, the community will try to find their new sense of normal. The spirit I felt there was amazing, these are a strong people and they will come through it. I can't imagine the sense of loss.
We may live three hours away but this is our America and this is in our backyard and we must do our part. The few hours I spent there yesterday may not be much but I want them to know that I support them and pray for them. Kevin and some men from our church went down tonight to help with debris clean-up and will be there for a few days. We feel it is important for our boys to see what service is and that it isn't only what's close by. When we were helping with the tornado recovery here at FLW, we met a man who drove all the way from Wisconsin to help and I was moved by his generosity. We have to do our part.
Besides helping at the donation center, one of the highlights of the trip for me was being able to meet up with one of my NCOs from Korea. He now lives in Joplin and we got to spend an hour or so talking and catching up. Thankfully his family was okay, they live in a part of Joplin that wasn't hit. His 20 year old son however was out of communication for 5 hours after the tornado hit. My friend Jeff found out when his son got home that he had spent a lot of that time shuttling people back and forth to the hospital as they climbed out of debris. That young man is now at Air Force basic training and I think he'll do just fine!
I feel truly humbled at being able to serve in a very small way. And I pray for the city of Joplin as they continue down the journey of recovery.