As I write on Monday evening, it has been three months to the day since the tornado killed 160 people and displaced as many as 15,000 from their homes. Joplin has passed some milestones toward recovery recently. School started on time last Wednesday, an extraordinary accomplishment considering that several school campuses still lie in ruins. Also, St. John’s Regional Medical Center announced its relocation site. The walls of the Walmart and Home Depot are up, with the former slated to open the week before Thanksgiving. Both damaged Walgreens re-opened today. A number of damaged homes are clearly being remodeled, while an increasing number of empty lots are missing even their slabs, a sign that the owners are ready to sell. An encouraging number of sold signs have popped up on these lots, too.
Joplin is coming back, but it will be a years-long process. Saturday, my dad and I once again delivered mattresses for Mission Joplin to people who had not slept in beds they could call their own for three months. I’ve written before about families whose first pieces of furniture were the mattresses from Mission Joplin. A Forest Park Baptist Church member and I delivered a mattress to another man who is just now collecting furniture for his new rental house – a tiny shack not much larger than the garage in his old house must have been. He described to us how the tornado had simply seemed to stop over his house as he lay curled up in the bathtub. (Literally a mile wide, the twister took 2 ½ minutes to pass any given location and was so large that it had an eye.) “I don’t ever want to experience that again,” he told us repeatedly with a weary, hollow gaze that told us that much more than three months time would be required to heal his wounds.
Our next stop was in a neighborhood that was missing most of the trees it once had despite being on “the edge” of the damage. We carried the mattresses into a cramped house that looked as if it had recently undergone some repairs and found a person sitting on nearly every piece of furniture. The homeowner ran down a roster of no fewer than five relatives who were now staying with her after losing their homes. There was hardly room to walk as the floor was cluttered with what I imagine were salvaged belongings owned by the refugees. My dad told me similar stories after he finished his deliveries on a separate route. That afternoon, he and I drove through one of the two villages of FEMA trailers set up near the Joplin airport. The lengths to which the city went to set up mailboxes, storm shelters, street signs, a police sub-station, and a trolley stop highlight the length of time the residents are expected to live there, and the number of trailers falls far short of the number that could be occupied.
The staff at Mission Joplin have mentioned a number of times that the donations they seek are the items a person might need to move into a new apartment with no possessions to their name, or that a newlywed couple might need to set up a home. Many victims are starting from scratch.
Starting this week, Mission Joplin’s hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 7:00 and Saturdays from 9:00 to 3:00. Surely someone reading this blog in Northwest Arkansas can find time to drive 90 minutes or less to Joplin and fill a crucial need for a few hours. Every hour worked is a blessing, and every task is necessary.
In the meantime, pray for the people of Joplin as they attempt to live normally in an environment that will not let them. No matter what encouraging signs of progress fill the headlines, and no matter how many days pass, the dark afternoon of May 22 is only a thought away.
Check out www.missionjoplin.tv for more info.
Written by Jonathan VerHoeven