Barry Countians lend a hand in Joplin

Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Local firefighters assist with search efforts On May 22, a group of volunteers from the Eagle Rock-Golden-Mano Fire District rushed to Joplin to assist with recovery efforts. The volunteers were assigned to a search group that took part in the grid search of the devastated area. Pictured above, from left, are: Donna Lunsford, safety officer; Rachel Phillips; Lieutenant Josh Parsons; and Jason Nunnely. Absent from the photo is Don Munson.

Over the last 10 days, residents from across Barry County traveled to Joplin to help with the recovery efforts. Additional local community members donated items to be sent to the city, which was heavily damaged by an EF5 tornado on May 22.

The Eagle Rock-Golden-Mano Fire District (ERGMFD) sent five volunteers to Joplin on May 22. The individuals assisted with recovery efforts through May 23.

"We had 25 people volunteer to go that night," said Steve Gash, ERGMFD chief. "We had to choose five from our volunteers, since we were still under severe weather conditions and did not want to leave our area uncovered."

The group of volunteers were selected based on their ability to provide medical, fire and other emergency response services. Volunteers Don Munson, Donna Lunsford, Rachel Phillips, Josh Parsons and Jason Nunnely assisted with the grid search for survivors and those who had been injured in the tornado.

"Thank God, we only found survivors," said Lunsford. "Our job was to search the areas and tend to the immediate needs of those we found. We provided a lot of water, which means a lot to people who don't have any."

When the members of the local fire district arrived in Joplin, they were assigned to groups that included firefighters and medical personnel from other southwest Missouri fire departments. The volunteers were instructed to clear houses and other structures in their assigned search area.

"What impressed me the most about the experience was the survivors we met," said Lunsford. "Their houses were destroyed, but they were going up and down their streets making sure everyone in their neighborhood was safe.

"These people had nothing left and still they were worried about someone else. It was really amazing," said Lunsford. "They also told us, 'Thank you for coming to check on us.'"

The ERGMFD volunteers searched an area that roughly spanned from 22nd Street to 34th Street and from Range Line to Connecticut Road.

"All of us who went are pretty seasoned, but I don't care who you are or how long you have been doing this, when you see that much destruction it touches your heart," said Lunsford. "You wish you could do more, but I know that we used our set of skills to help. Others have skills that they can use to help too."

Lunsford encourages area residents to plan volunteer efforts in the Joplin area over the next weeks, months or even years.

"The need there is going to be huge for a long time," said Lunsford. "If you want to help and can't go now, then go when you can. They will still need help."

Wheaton resident John Potter is using his social media connections to organize a group of volunteers to assist with efforts in Joplin. The group, which includes half a dozen local residents, made its first trip to Joplin on Saturday.

"I was on Facebook last week and a friend of mine who owns a motorcycle shop in Rolla said that his friend in Joplin had her home torn up," said Potter. "He asked if I could get a hold of her for him. I did, and I thought if I can do that, I can do more."

Potter created an event page for volunteer efforts in Joplin. He invited all of his friends to help with the recovery efforts.

"With a few clicks, I had 40 people signed up to help," said Potter.

Each volunteer was directed to register at Potter's group was assigned to work with AmeriCorps in Joplin.

"On Saturday, we worked a double shift," said Potter. "We were cutting up trees in front yards and sorting through debris so that they can recycle what they can. We also helped people get things out of houses. One woman couldn't even get into her home to get the clothes that were salvageable."

The group volunteered for one four-hour shift but was asked to stay to work a double shift. The group included six local residents and 30 of Potter's high school friends from Belton.

"There was such a diversity of people helping," said Potter. "They came from all walks of life. There are so many things for people to do, from handing out donations to riding around and giving water and food out to volunteers."

Potter's group plans to return to Joplin in around two weeks to offer more assistance. On their next volunteer trip, the group members will be unloading and sorting donations.

"I'm a tough guy, and I saw things that really shook me up," said Potter. "The look on people's faces, not just the ones who lost everything, but the ones who were there helping. There is no way to describe the shock on their faces.

"We started on 15th Street, and in that area, one side of the street is fine and on the other side of the street there is nothing there," said Potter. "In one area the only things I could recognize were the Dillons sign and half of a Walmart sign."

The Calvary Baptist Church youth group in Exeter also felt the need to lend a hand in Joplin this weekend. A group of 11 youth and 10 adults traveled to the devastated city on Sunday.

"We worked with College Heights Christian Church," said Kerry Mattingly. "Our youth helped move and sort supplies. They also made over 500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for sack lunches. They worked their tails off."

Six of the adults who traveled with the youth group were invited to join a clean-up crew. They helped clean yards and remove items from people's homes.

"It was overwhelming," said Mattingly. "People think they know what it looks like because they have seen pictures, but when you are there it is totally different. It's the feeling you get, and there is an odd, moldy, musty smell in the air.

"I was so amazed though, because there was no rudeness," said Mattingly. "People were so kind to each other. Those people have lost everything, and you would think they would act devastated, but it wasn't that way. Everybody was helping everybody."

The group of volunteers started their day in the perimeter zone of the devastated area but were later instructed to help along Illinois Street, one of the hardest hit areas in Joplin.

"We were right in the middle of the devastation, but people were able to salvage some stoves and washers and dryers and things," said Mattingly. "Some of the guys helped move the heavier stuff, and we picked up the pictures we could find and other things that we thought they might want."

The Calvary Baptist Church volunteers worked from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on May 29.

In addition to volunteering, the church group took four vehicle loads of donations to the Joplin area. Donations, which were also collected by Victory Baptist Church in Exeter, included food, water, household goods, pet supplies, baby supplies and personal hygiene products.

An effort organized by Niki Mabry, of Seligman, also transported truckloads of donations from Barry County to Joplin this weekend. Many of the items were collected at the Barry County OACAC Neighborhood Center in Cassville. Other donations were accepted at the Seligman City Hall and Southwest School.

"On Thursday, we thought we had a lot of stuff," said Gail Reed, Barry County OACAC director. "On Thursday afternoon, the donations kept coming and coming, and on Friday, they came by the truck load. It was amazing.

"People brought from their hearts," said Reed. "They went to Walmart and the Dollar Store and bought all kinds of stuff that they thought people in Joplin would need."

Volunteers from the First Baptist Church in Cassville helped sort and pack the donations, which were picked up on Friday afternoon.

"I woke up Monday morning after the tornado hit Joplin with a passion to help the people there," said Mabry. "I called around to see who I could get to let me use their location as a drop site."

After seeing the number of donations coming in, the City of Seligman staff contacted the owner of Ruby's convenience store in Seligman to see if he would be willing to donate the use of one of his U-Haul trailers.

"Members of the community came out to help sort and pack the donations and load the trailer," said Mabry. "I had more than 70 people helping me throughout the week."

Southwest Superintendent Bob Walker asked if he could assist with Mabry's effort. When the U-Haul trailer was full, Walker volunteered the use of the school's band trailer and pulled the packed trailer to Joplin for Mabry.

"It was really incredible," said Mabry. "It is an amazing experience to see so many helping. I would encourage more people to volunteer over the coming months. They will find a new joy in their heart that they have never felt."

Donations for Mabry's effort are still being accepted at the Neighborhood Center in Cassville, Seligman City Hall and Shear Images in Washburn. Mabry hopes to fill a semi-truck trailer with items that can be used by Joplin residents as they rebuild.

Clothing donations are also still being accepted at the Pink Zebra in Cassville.

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