JOPLIN — Roughly 650 volunteers converged on the city of Joplin on Saturday wearing bright-green "Columbia for Joplin" T-shirts.
Volunteers worked in separate groups removing debris, sorting donations, helping with demolition and going door-to-door to post fliers letting people know they could get help with debris removal.
They left for Joplin at 4:30 a.m. and returned home at about 4 p.m., riding in buses or driving their own cars. They were adults, children, professionals, students, first-timers and repeat helpers.
The event was organized by five rotary clubs and one Rotaract club from the Columbia area, event organizer Neil Riley said.
"I wanted people to come, and I'm really excited they did that," Riley said.
East Middle School
At East Middle School, groups of volunteers with dirt smeared on their clothes cleared debris with shovels, rakes and brooms.
Thirteen-year-old Gabriel Krug was excited to make his first trip to help in Joplin..
“When I heard there were sign-ups for Joplin, I thought I should go down there and lend a hand," Gabriel said. "I hope that (the Joplin students) can come back to their school soon.”
His father, Jeff Krug, who teaches physical therapy courses at MU, organized a collecting site on campus where students and others can donate items for Joplin.
“We knew people would want to help, and we provided an outlet for people to do that," Krug said.
Twenty of his students made the trip to Joplin to volunteer on Saturday.
On the way to Iowa Street, a high school stood desolate with blown out windows, crumbling walls and a car resting on its roof. The only activity appeared to be in the trailer marked “Trauma and Counseling Center,” housed in the school’s parking lot.
“I got instant goose bumps when we drove in,” said Madison Roberts, a University of Missouri-Kansas City student. “You have to see Joplin with your own eyes to realize just how devastating it is.”
A spatula, a child's boot and a tattered stuffed bunny rabbit peeked out of piles of rubble dotting Iowa Street, where a third group of volunteers sorted through debris. Volunteers dragged tree branches and rubble, adding them to heaps on the curb.
The revving of a chainsaw filled the air as Jon McCullem perched atop an uprooted tree and hacked off branches. He had visited Joplin just two days after the tornado hit to help distribute food and water. He returned later with a semitruck full of donated tools, plywood and boxes of nails from Columbia businesses.
McCullem came prepared for the Joplin trip with tools to lend to volunteers.
Despite the devastation that still plagues the town, McCullem said “the improvement is incredible” since his first visit. “I’m thoroughly impressed with how much has been done. We have to take it one house at a time, but it is getting there.”
Louanna Dodds, another volunteer, said she was hesitant to visit Joplin.
“I’m from Wichita, Kan., which is right in tornado alley,” Louanna Dodds said. “And I’ve seen at least 70 tornadoes, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “This tornado was like a vacuum sweeper. It literally sucked everything up and then dumped it all back down.”
Dodds' journey was initiated by her 15-year-old daughter, Amanda, who celebrated her birthday Friday. The Hickman High School student traded in balloons and cake for the chance to help others.
“I wanted to come down because you will always remember how you helped give back, and that is really important to me,” Amanda Dodds said.
Misti's Mission donation center
More volunteers clamored around rows of marked cardboard boxes, sorting donated clothing at Misti’s Mission. Three large canopy tents held more clothing racks, piles of donated furniture and makeshift shelves filled with cleaning supplies, toiletries and books. The “warehouse” is Misti’s front lawn where donations are dropped off, sorted and redistributed.
The mission, which received a donation of 10 new microwaves Saturday, started on May 22 when Misti Lindquist called the local radio station, offering to launder the clothes of tornado victims. After an initial seven truckloads arrived, the clothing never ceased to pile in.
Three months later, Misti’s Mission has morphed into a donation destination for all necessities hauled in daily from across the state. The donations engulf Lindquist’s lawn.
Through monetary donations from volunteers and help from AmeriCorps, Lindquist has a contractor coming Wednesday to discuss the 14,000-square-foot Nationwide Disaster Relief warehouse she plans to build to house the donations.
“We have a lot of people donate to us because we verify every address of those who come to pick up donations. We do not charge anyone to pick up donated items,” Lindquist said.
For volunteers, work did not dominate the day.
“The best part about all of this is meeting all of the other volunteers and getting to know them. It helped bring us all together and reinforced our desire to come help out,” Taylor Ebert, an MU senior, said.
Diana Ratliff, another volunteer, said: “This is just a good way to spend a Saturday. Even if you have to get up early, it is only one day of the year that you are doing this, only one day that you might be exhausted. Think about all the people here in Joplin who deal with this everyday.”
Garvin Park area
In the neighborhood near 25th and Pennsylvania Ave., bright-green shirts peppered the landscape where volunteers raked debris from roads and yards, hauled crumbled sheetrock and twisted metal in wheelbarrows, and stacked piles of insulation and cement blocks near the road for removal.
Sarah Opie and her four salon employees rolled up the sleeves of their green T-shirts and tied them with bright-pink ribbons before getting to work with rakes and shovels.
“I think it’s really important that we give and go beyond ourselves,” Opie said. “I asked the girls if they would like to come, and they said, ‘Absolutely!’ It’s been touching to see the number of people from Columbia gather and set aside their time and their energy and come and serve another town in Missouri.”
Aaron Blackford, who has family and friends from Joplin who lost their homes in May, was grateful for the group’s hard work. Blackford was in town doing demolition work and said he was shocked to see the number of volunteers who came out from Columbia for the workday.
“I haven’t seen this many people out here in two months,” Blackford said. “Whoever put this together, tell them thank you.”