I flew off to Oklahoma and Missouri last week to help however I could in Joplin, Missouri. That’s where an unusually large & destructive F5 tornado hit on May 22, 2011.
I flew to Tulsa, spent a night there, rented a pickup truck, and drove 90 miles to Joplin. I figured I’d drive into town and find somewhere to be useful – a church, Red Cross, fire dept, City Hall, whatever. And that worked great… once in town, people told me to register at the nearby Southern Missouri State University.
The Central Christian Center on Virginia Street needed a guy with a truck to take food, water, diapers, peanut butter, Gatorade, etc, out to field tents where residents turn up for supplies.
I spent the next couple of days driving around damaged parts of Joplin, looking for telltale tents where the smaller re(distribution) centers were. Sometimes they had all they needed for the day, but usually, they were happy to get more stuff.
On my 3rd and final day, they didn’t need deliveries done, but wanted me to deliver water and Gatorade in residential areas. They had everything but ice, so I found a gas station that sold ice, bought 4 bags, and was on my way.
The people of Joplin really appreciate all of the volunteers, and it was great meeting them, as well as other volunteers. I’d go to Outback for dinner and eat at the bar, and I’d always meet other folks who were there for similar reasons. One night, some Texas contruction guys paid for my dinner. That was really cool of them. I later read in the local newspaper that Outback lost one of their employees in the tornado.
Most of Joplin is fine, which is good because at least people can take shelter and comfort with family & friends nearby. I spoke with a guy from Louisianna who said Hurricane Katrina was insane because the damage was similar, but so widespread that the nearest basic civilization (electricity, water, gas, etc) was hours away. That is a truly frightening idea. Like I said, in this case, as bad as the tornado was, at least you could drive to Starbucks or Outback like it never happened.
Anyway, the trip was a great trip. It was good to be slightly disconnected – just connected enough to answer sales calls and check in now and then. Customers were very supportive when they heard where I was!
I checked Twitter less often, and given the surroundings, many of the topics seemed somehow less relevant :-)
There was a little bit of looting, but apparently very little. If there’s a Hell, any looters are going straight to it! Can you imagine? One resident wrote scripture on his house to dissuade looters. Another wrote that anyone looting would be shot. The Texas construction guys said they liked the latter :-)
One thing I noticed that’s interesting is that, given the circumstances, you’re freed from usual requirements of civility (like caring about your clothes or obeying all traffic rules), yet everyone is reasonably civilized. Some layers of expectations disappear, but there’s no mayhem.
If you can do such a thing, you should!
It’s good for you, good for the community, and good for the whole country!
I’m very glad to hear that others may do such things after hearing about this.