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Columbia for Joplin volunteer effort gains steam

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 | 11:34 a.m. CDT; updated 5:02 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Columbia for Joplin creator Neil Riley stands in front a poster promoting the event.

With so many Columbia residents volunteering for an upcoming work day in still-recovering Joplin, organizers have started looking for more buses.

On Aug. 27, at 4 a.m., at least 280 people will load into buses and private cars to make the more-than-four-hour trip to the southwest Missouri city hit by a devastating tornado May 22.

At least, that's how many people had signed up online as of Tuesday morning, almost enough to fill the first four buses lined up for the trip. But Neil Riley, the local dentist leading the Columbia for Joplin effort, said he was surprised by the already overwhelming response and expects even more volunteers to register once MU students return.

Riley said his organizational committee planned to meet Tuesday evening to explore additional transportation options, adding that more buses would require a yet-to-be-determined co-pay from riders.

Because of the fluid situation in Joplin, Riley said it's too early to know exactly where volunteers would be deployed or what they would be doing.

He encouraged families with older children to participate, but cautioned that some of the work might involve tools and labor-intensive tasks. Volunteers 12 and older can sign up for the cleanup; there will be work for people of all abilities.

"We’ve pretty much gotten all of the debris cleaned up,” said Sam Anselm, Joplin's assistant city manager. "But there are probably a few hundred homes that need to be demolished," so Columbia volunteers might be clearing demolition debris.

Anselm said volunteers might also help build trails in a federal housing area where 200 families have little access to recreational activities.

Riley, who's been working with AmeriCorps and the city of Joplin to organize the work day, said the Columbia for Joplin event was created to "help people on a personal level, as opposed to a check."

Registration, which closes online Aug. 22, costs $10 and includes lunch and a commemorative T-shirt.


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