JOPLIN — MU men's basketball coach Frank Haith spoke in hushed and solemn tones Thursday at Missouri Southern State University’s Red Cross shelter, inquiring about residents' welfare and expressing sorrow for the devastation wrought in the city by Sunday's EF-5 tornado.
Haith, who was hired as the Tigers' new coach in April, joined other MU athletic staff to deliver donated items collected at the Hearnes Center, such as baby formula, diapers, bottled water and stuffed animals. They also handed out plush Truman the Tiger toys to children at the shelter.
Haith said he was a little nervous about touring the affected areas.
"In terms of just watching the images and the pictures, I can’t believe it," he said. "There’s people losing just everything.”
At least 126 people died in the wake of the tornado. Haith said he hopes Joplin’s needs will not soon be forgotten and said he was impressed by the support shown by the university and residents of Columbia.
“I’m so proud that I work at a university that cares about people,” Haith said. “I mean, there’s no question that it has been a university-community effort in Columbia towards the folks who are in Joplin.”
Haith said the university has sold over 6,000 One Mizzou T-shirts, raising over $60,000. He also discussed the possibility of a future charity game to benefit Joplin.
"It’s a little bit of something else that I think the university would be proud of to help this community,” Haith said. “Hopefully, it’s something that can happen.”
Haith's tour across the city included the devastated Range Line Road commercial district and flattened residential areas.
“I just want to see people smile,” Haith said. "And I know that’s very difficult."
Eliza Smith, a Missourian reporter, contributed to this article.