The water pile was BIG, and daunting when they said "Can you cover this with tarps?", in 90+ degree weather.

Day 2

There has been so much written about this catastrophe, I won’t even try to impress you with how destructive the tornado was. You won’t get it anyways, no matter what you read or which video you watch- unless you come and stand in front of the neighborhood.

Coordinating the incoming donations, then warehousing, and dissemination those donations after a natural disaster must be a chore. Add in that there are dozens of churches and organizations doing it, as well as some private businesses (one appliance store has shifted their warehouse over to collecting and distributing donations for victims). Sprinkle in a little (or a lot of) Government, and how do you get anything done here? Looking through the wreckage, it seems that the human spirit is hard at work overcoming daunting odds, with remarkable progress being made daily.  Americorps has been tasked as the official coordinating agency that welcomes volunteers, completes paperwork (liability releases and skill inventories) and assigns volunteers according to daily need reports from churches, city organizations, and the like. They also shuttle workers into the field for specific assignments.

Our first day, we thought it best to check in with Americorps, who assigned our “family of 9 with small children” to the Salvation Army kitchen. There, we met Mark, the stand in Kitchen manager for the day. We ended up reorganizing the pantry (which is the size of our dining room at home); washing dishes in a washer none of us had seen before (and we might like at home), cooked goolash, made 25# rice, served lunch, bandaged Laurens cut shin, then served the food that we had prepared to the staff, volunteers and public in their cafeteria.

...all of the canned goods came out of the pantry, were rotated, and went back in- among other supplies that are now (or were) organized.

That's even more chicken than we prepare for our family- going into several 6" pans to serve 100.

After lunch, we cleaned up and were back onto the hot pavement outside by 3pm. We toured the wreckage more that afternoon, and stopped for a few minutes overlooking the hospital to take a slow look across the valley. While parked, and I was reading the hospitals plan for rebuilding at another location,  a man approached to tell us an interesting story about his intent to open a museum, showcasing the ‘tornado art’ that he’s found: a piano that when played sounds like a rushing tornado, a deformed piece of wreckage that now represents the force of the storm etc etc. We were parked next to empty, idling network news satellite truck, in our white van with dark windows- so he was surprised at the end of telling his story that we weren’t going to be doing a news story- then ambled to the network truck. He lost everything when the tornado struck.

Day 3

Americorps assigned us to the Joplin Family Worship Center, who were handling a large amount of donations coming in and then handing them out to survivors. Today is to be the last cool day before the heat wave hits- it’s already 86 degrees ay 9am and forecast to hit the mid 90’s today and tomorrow. Kelly and a couple of girls were assigned an inside job, helping fill food orders, and the other kids were to help load vehicles once the orders were filled. Ethan Trevor and I were sent outside to ‘take a look’ at a water stockpile that needed to be (re)covered. It was a large pile of water- maybe 50’ across and 300 feet long (think football field), stacked about 6’ high. It was strewn with a collection of small tarps that had blown off or been worn down by several weeks of searing sun, or just not covered at all. As if God had set them out, we were directed to a pile of donated used tarps that were thicker, had reinforced grommets with a reflective silver side and seemed to be custom sized for this pile. We relocated several pallets of water so that they would fit under the tarps, then began removing the old, and securing the new tarps, silver side up to create a shelter. Although Trevor was pulled off of the tarp job for a couple of hours to help build donation boxes, we all worked together into the afternoon to get this huge project done before moving inside for some cool air. With only 5 monster tarps, we were able to entirely conceal the water supply for this part of the project.

We got it done! (That's Trevor and Ethan on top stretching the tarp across the water pallets at the other end).

Having seen the debris field,  talking with folks that had been laboring in the devastated homes, and being informed by the agencies that children would not be allowed to go into the ‘field’ to work, we opted to try and stay together to serve this relief effort. That decision would keep us here, in the Joplin Family Worship Center through the end of the week, which helped us see what happens between the time that you make a donation, and a person in need takes that donation into their appreciative arms. TV news is very good at broadcasting the drama of the scene, but unfortunately overlooks the scores of people (about 50,000 so far when we were there) that have decide to give of their time at their own expense to try to make a dent in this recovery.

Kelly and Lauren worked together loading food into carts to fill food orders, while Ethan and the boys loaded the goods into vehicles outside. The food area had almost everything you'd find in a grocery store, and provided a base of supplies to re-establish households in the area.

PILES of goods stacked everywhere in the church sanctuary, with this yellow box coming from a group far away from the tornado's damage...

It was personalized with a simple note of encouragement- like so many of the other supplies had been laced with spiritual tracts, or handwritten thoughts, or handmade cards from children in Sunday School. The messages were encouraging to the volunteers that were on their feet for many hours a day doing backbreaking work- and the notes made it into the field where they could be read by those hardest hit by the tragedy.

Sometimes Simon and Henry were helpful by helping, and sometimes they were helpful by entertaining themselves. Good at both assignments!

We met The Godwins, another fulltime RV family that had already worked at JFWS for a week, who had a great story. They had been on the road for a year after selling their house and all their stuff. Then they settled into a new smaller home until they couldn’t stand it anymore, and hit the road again. This time, patriarch Brian thought they might make it for another 5 months and head back to the second home in their original community but continue to home school and operate their internet business… What was so remarkable- was that nearly every word that came out of Brians mouth could have come from mine. His, and their view on what was important about doing this with family, about his knack for the gadgets, the enthusiasm for a life on the move was eerily familiar. We enjoyed getting to know them while passing in the supply aisle at the church, lunch breaks and after work when we got together several nights and played in the creek at our campground with our other RV friends, the Lundy’s. These relationships make us think that we could continue on and develop a network of friends that we would reconnect with as we crossed the country, discovered new things to see and ways to save money and enjoy this life. If you go on the road, make an effort to connect with other likeminded families! We waited until later our trip to do this and I regret that delay.

During a lunch break at JFWS, Brian demonstrated how he assisted Polly with steering their Class A when she ended up in a tight construction zone when she was a new RV driver... They were both great sports with this story.

With 2 meals at the church each day, debilitating heat outside, and a cool refreshing creek, we could do this for a while! However, something is coming that will change our plans for our family in Joplin.

Meila is ready to go back into the cool water of Shoal Creek with her siblings and friends at the campground.