JOPLIN — Kneeling in a small landscaped area at 15th Street and Murphy Boulevard, master gardener Chieko Hedin held up a salmon dahlia bulb and advised those around her in the proper technique for planting it.
They nodded, then got to work turning the soil with hand spades.
To passersby, it might have looked like an unusual spot to consider planting a bulb garden.
Across the street, the east wall of the First Community Church still was missing. Debris was stacked next to a fence, and crews worked on roofs and windows of nearby homes temporarily mended with bright blue tarps — all evidence of the May 22 tornado.
The Rev. Frank Sierra of St. Philip's Episcopal Church paused from turning shovelfuls of soil to explain the project.
"When we can see beauty in nature, it gives us hope that things are going to be OK," he said. "Blooms, leaves — those are things that indicate new growth. Once these come up, people will look and say, 'There is life.'"
"The Gospel of John talks about planting seeds in different kinds of soil, and for me, we're planting it in whatever soil is available," he said. "We're making the effort."
The small box of bulbs and rhizomes that volunteers were helping him plant were among a shipment of 10,000 daylilies, peonies, hostas, dahlias, amaryllises, dutch irises and gladioli that arrived at the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department office, donated by America Responds with Love Inc., a nonprofit based in Valley Forge, Pa.
President and CEO Richard McDonough said the Joplin project is one of several being implemented simultaneously throughout the United States in communities hit by disasters, including small towns in the Memphis, Tenn., area and western Alabama.
"The beauty of flowers will enhance the environment in all of these communities not just during the next few months, but for years to come," McDonough said.
The challenge, said Parks and Recreation Director Steve Curry, was who would plant them. He said the combination of tornado cleanup and standard seasonal work have kept his crews stretched thin, so his department won't be able to assist.
"I don't have any manpower left to even think about it right now," he said as volunteers began to gather.
Several churches, the Ozark Gateway Master Gardeners and a troop of Boy Scouts stepped forward to assist, and their members hope more groups will join them.
"I think this is going to be super for our city," said St. Philip's congregation member Craig Campbell as he looked over the crates of bulbs. "It will add beauty to a blighted area. Next spring, we'll have flowers blooming, which will be uplifting to people. It's a step to bring some color and joy back to part of our town. I can just picture it."
Sixth-grader Adam Grover, one of four Boy Scouts from Troop 333 who showed up in his uniform to help, said he wasn't really sure what he was planting or how to do it.
"I've only planted watermelon before," he said.
Sierra assured those helping that the only thing they needed to know was how to dig a hole a few inches deep.
Once Adam was told what the bulbs were and the process they'd undergo to eventually sprout and bloom, he said he was eager to get started. Accompanying him was his mother, Courtney McFarland, who lost her business of eight years, Creative Kids Academy near 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue, in the tornado.
"This makes me feel better," said Adam. "It's like our town will grow back."