This past Saturday was the 69th day since the Joplin tornado. Last week was the busiest the volunteers at Mission Joplin have seen since they began operating just days after the storm. Ten weeks later, Joplin residents are still streaming into the distribution center in Forest Park Baptist Church’s bus barn to pick up basic necessities – clothing, baby food, non-perishable food, toiletries, toilet paper. Volunteers from St. Louis, Kansas City, and southern Louisiana kept the shelves stocked, while others helped the customers shop. In a nearby parking lot, thirteen semi trailers – Mission Joplin’s forward warehouse – held dozens more pallets of donated supplies. Just north of town, at an actual warehouse leased without charge to the church for a full year, hundreds of donated mattresses and pallets of toilet paper and toys awaited distribution.
While a Little League team from Columbia, Missouri, – in town for the state tournament – loaded mattresses at the warehouse, my dad and I, along with two men from New Mexico, helped deliver some of those mattresses for people who did not have vehicles large enough to carry them. Two-and-a-half months after the tornado, many folks have found new places to live. They have rented apartments, moved in with relatives, or bought new homes, but they do not have much more than a roof over their heads. The mattresses we helped deliver were one family’s first pieces of furniture. I have heard of several people – including children – having slept on the floor until they received a Mission Joplin mattress. The human impact of the tornado is as difficult to fathom as the physical damage.
Even the Joplin residents who have received insurance payments on their homes have not necessarily received payments on their possessions. They may never receive the full amounts. Many were underinsured. Most of the people who lived between 20th and 26th Streets, north and east of St. John’s hospital, lived in rental houses built for miners 60 or 70 years ago. Many did not have renter’s insurance, so now they are living on the same income they had before the tornado (assuming they did not lose their jobs in the storm), paying higher rent than before because the prices increased with the demand, and trying to replace their possessions. Mission Joplin’s supervisors anticipate having tornado victims coming through the doors until at least the end of the year.
Meanwhile, rebuilding has not yet truly begun. “Recovery” is the order of the day, attempting to resume everyday life. Cleanup has proceeded well, but a heavily-disputed city council vote in June put a hold on residential construction until later this month. The damaged section of Joplin is now taking on a particularly forlorn appearance. An eight-by-one-half-mile belt of land through Joplin and Duquesne that used to be carpeted with old trees and packed with block after block of houses now more resembles a Kansas prairie. Even the grass is gone, thanks to the tornado itself, or the feet and machinery that followed it. The yards look like infield dirt.
Rebuilding will last well into this fall and winter. The folks at Mission Joplin, faced with the
start of the school year that will take away many of their staff, plan to maintain the same hours anyway – 9 to 5, Monday through Saturday. “We’re just going to trust the Lord to bring us help,” a supervisor named Audrey told me. The Lord will, no doubt, but He will not create volunteers out of thin air. They will come from somewhere because they heard about the need, perhaps by reading this post.
That, at least, is my prayer.
Written by Jonathan VerHoeven