Volunteers return to Joplin to help with clean-up
Buffalo Island volunteers collected a large 18-wheeler truckload of supplies for tornado stricken residents of Joplin, Mo., and personally delivered them on June 17-18. Then they returned in July to help with clean up and reconstruction.
"What started out to be an effort to answer the call for supplies and help has turned into a full-fledged ministry," said Kenneth Winford of Lake City. "Once we stepped foot in the Joplin area, we knew we had to go back and do more. They have so many needs, and we have people here willing to meet those needs."
Winford spearheaded an effort to collect supplies for the Joplin area after visiting there following the devastating tornado. With help from Robert Chambers of Monette, they formed a team called North East Arkansas Helpers and have had full support from city leaders and local volunteers.
"We have developed a partnership with the Grace Baptist Church in Joplin and are committed to doing all we can to help," Chambers said.
"The NEA Helpers plan to go back to Joplin every month, for at least a year, and more if possible," Winford said. "In June and July of 2012 we hope to take 1,000 workers into the area, in a swamp affect, and do some powerful work. In the beginning the people in Joplin were overwhelmed by people coming in, before they had time to formulate their plans. Soon the people stopped coming in droves, but the needs remained. Now they have had a chance to evaluate what the most urgent needs are and plans for repair and construction."
Members of NEA Helpers, who have visited the Joplin site, expressed surprise to see the degree of destruction and devastation in the area, and equated it to looking like a war zone.
"Pictures on television or in the newspapers could never do it justice, as it is just unbelievable," Chambers said. "It took us a while to realize just how severe it was and where we needed to start. There was a sign at the entrance, which read, 'You are about to enter a mission field, may God bless you.' Grace Baptist pastor Fred Vogue told us that the tornado was a mile wide when it entered the city. There was 12 miles of destruction."
"When we arrived, Rev. Vogue explained there were a deadly fungus and mold in the area and what we needed to do to protect ourselves while there," Chambers said. "Over 8,000 structures had been destroyed or damaged. There were 14,000 displaced people. Over 18,000 vehicles had been lost or destroyed, and many were left in crumpled heaps of metal. There were eight day cares destroyed or damaged, five schools, 40 churches, and four nursing homes. The death toll now is 156 people."
"Over 200 church people were feeding 6,000 people, and had been doing so since May 23," Winford said. "They needed the food and supplies we brought and were most appreciative. They were well organized, with 18-wheeler trucks sitting side by side, with different items placed in each truck. People needing aid and assistance were processed and allowed to come each day and pick up food and supplies."
"Fifteen people went to Joplin on the first trip to deliver supplies on June 26-27," Winford said. "Everyone pays their own expenses there and back. They supplied all our needs after we arrived, as far as food and lodging, so we could be close to the job site. We had designated work that needed to be done with assigned areas to work in."
"They referred to the effort made by helpers as Operation Blessing," Chambers said. "Area workers carried off 350 tons of debris a day, to Salina, Kan."
"Even though many churches have been destroyed, the people are meeting and praising God," Winford said. "They gather in warehouses and any buildings they can find. They even meet on street corners or in dwellings left standing. We want to help them with their ministry efforts each month as we return. As you can well imagine, people are having to deal with death and loss and need encouragement to do so."
Thirty members of the NEA Helpers returned to Joplin July 7-8 and worked on clean up and construction. Forty people have committed to go back Aug. 12-13.
For more information concerning the Joplin relief effort persons may contact Kenneth Winford at 870-273-8675 or Robert Chambers at 870-486-2286.