Volunteers pour into Joplin to help with tornado relief effort

Saturday, June 4, 2011 | 5:07 p.m. CDT; updated 11:34 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 16, 2011

JOPLIN — Thousands of men, women and children are pouring into Joplin from all points of the compass to help in Joplin's recovery.

Dozens of high school kids from just up the road in Miller. A church van full of volunteers from Muskogee, Okla. A bus of volunteers from Topeka, Kan. A caravan of 18 cars from a Methodist church near Chicago.

The list, the faces and the incoming vehicles go on and on. ...

Amy Walker is one of those faces.

She and her husband, Josh, lived in Webb City for two years earlier in the decade before moving north to Plymouth, a town of about 10,000 people in northern Indiana.

That's where they were when they first heard about the EF-5 tornado that struck the heart of Joplin.

"We were on our way (down) Monday morning," said Walker, who spent an entire week in Joplin, helping out with answering phones and coordinating supplies at The Bridge.

Like so many area churches and the campus of Missouri Southern State University, The Bridge has become a key drop-off point for supplies.

Before leaving for Joplin,, she tweeted and put on Facebook a comment about their journey to Joplin, asking if anyone would want to make a quick donation.

The response was overwhelming.

"Yeah, things kind of snowballed from there," Walker said.

A donated passenger van was filled to capacity in less than four hours. The couple also picked up two additional passengers, Amy Walker's mother, Geri Carlson, and her brother, Nick Carlson.

While Walker mans the phones, her mother, a professional counselor, does what she can for the tornado victims that seek out The Bridge for supplies. Her husband and brother spent the past six days leading search-and-rescue teams into the rubble that was once central Joplin.

"The whole community (of Plymouth) is behind Joplin," she said.

The same could be said of the people living in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Recently, tornadoes bulldozed seven Southern states, killing more than 300 people. Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, was the hardest hit from the April 27 storm, with 41 dead and hundreds of homes ravaged.

"We know what Joplin is going through," said Trent Livingston, who on his own accord filled the back of his truck with bottled water and food purchased from a local Walmart and was sitting just off Missouri 249, at the 20th Street exit, waiting to distribute the items somewhere inside Joplin.

When asked what made him decide to drive nearly 11 hours from Alabama, through Memphis and on into Southwest Missouri, he simply shrugged.

"We weren't hit by the (Alabama) tornadoes, but I know friends and family who have, and my heart goes out to the people of Joplin" experiencing the same heartache, Livingston said.

Former Joplin resident Ken Sisk, who now resides in Texas, felt both helpless and sickened by the images of destruction in his hometown. He volunteered to drive a truck from his church in Frisco, Texas, to Joplin, but they left before he was ready.

"I'm planning on bringing my chain saw with me," he said via Facebook.

Of the hundreds of pictures he's seen on the Internet from Joplin, the one he's been moved by the most is the still-standing cross at St. Mary's on 26th Street.

The cross, he said, "may end up being the iconic representation of the whole recovery effort."

Trey Bean drove up from Hickory Creek, which lies on the shores of Beaver Lake between Rogers and Springdale in northwest Arkansas, to help unload vehicles, trailers, vans and buses at The Bridge.

When asked why he decided to do what he did, he just spread out his arms at the people rushing around, the cars waiting to unload and the piles of supplies beside him.

"This," he said. "As long as I've got the time, I'm here. And I'll come back."

Some of the volunteers choose to remain anonymous.

"It doesn't matter who I am," a Carthage man said when asked his name. "I just need to help. I just need to help. You see it on the TV all the time and you get a real eye-opener when it happens at home. I'm just trying to help any way I can."

Brande Reynolds, of Miller, traveled to Joplin with three kids from that community's school district to volunteer.

At The Bridge on Tuesday, she hooked up with a vanguard of volunteers from Stillwater, Okla., and added her pickup and its empty truck bed to the caravan that eventually made its way down to 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

"I just didn't want just to sit here," Reynolds said. Joplin "is my neighbor. I went to college at Missouri Southern 20 years ago. This is home. My dad worked at St. John's for 10 years. I cried when I saw the hospital. It was like my second home was gone. I can't imagine that hospital not functioning; I've never seen it not function."

When the tornado struck May 22, she said she felt useless.

"And so I went and prayed in church, and God said, 'Be with the kids. Go do what needs done and help these people.'"

And so she did.

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