Giving to others took on a rudimentary form for Taylor Savage and Rachel Adamson (two of my great friends) when they decided to spend two days of Memorial Day weekend in Joplin, Missouri helping the victims of a massive tornado that has claimed nearly 140 lives, according to Reuters. That total is going to rise with more than 100 people on a missing persons list.
President Barack Obama visited Joplin Sunday, visiting sites of major devastation in the town and speaking at a memorial service at Missouri Southern State University later that day.
Rachel and Taylor spent Saturday and Sunday volunteering in Joplin.They found themselves moving debris, talking to victims and simply praying with the affected. They have graciously answered a few of my questions via email about what the experience was like and how they view the current situation in Joplin. It is an interesting take to see the Joplin devastation from two volunteers’ perspectives. Not wanting my rhetoric to get in the way, I am just going to publish the full Q&A as is.
Please share with others so that maybe we can begin to understand just how this traumatic experience has affected so many.
What were you expecting before you got there? What did you think you’d see and how did you think you could help?
Rachel and Taylor
Rachel: I wasn’t really sure, to be honest. I had a friend go up to help 2 days after the tornado, and he did debris clean-up and data entry, so I was expecting to do things like that. Being from Oklahoma, I had an idea of what the debris path would look like, as well. Roofs missing, some houses knocked down, lots of broken limbs…I was really just expecting that on a wider scale than I’m used to seeing.
Taylor: I was expecting to see destruction, and I was expecting to do labor in the middle of that destruction, so nothing too imaginative. However, some things changed up a bit for me when Rachel and I finally drove into the part of town that was hit, and I was a little nervous, to be honest. I know that there is quite a bit psychologically involved with grief, so I didn’t want to get in the way of that. It didn’t cost me anything to travel up there for a weekend, and it cost everything for the people who lived there. I was just afraid of being one of hundreds of “things in the way.”
How did that compare to what it actually was like?
Rachel: It was much, much worse. The debris path was huge, but it didn’t look like anything I’d seen before. Trees were stripped of even their bark, houses were literally just piles of rubble…one woman told me she’d even seen a 2×4 impaling a concrete curb. You could stand in the middle of it and turn in a complete circle and see nothing but devastation. The scene was apocalyptic.
Taylor: The images I expected to see were the images that I saw, but there is a definite (and obvious) distinction between mental images and real ones. I knew that I would see concrete slabs covered in debris, but there is an emotional “realness” associated with seeing the destruction that you can’t possibly get from viewing AP photos of the very same thing. Regarding my fear of getting in the way; I quickly learned that there were far too many volunteers to properly organize, but not near enough to aid in the healing that Joplin needed.
What is one memory you will take away from today?
Rachel: Yesterday, Taylor asked a man we were helping if we could pray with him before we left, and he seemed really touched. I cried a little. Today, we were in an area of worse destruction, and we saw several cars with flashing lights and hordes of firemen and policemen, so we walked down to check it out. We stood about 100 feet away and watched men with blue nylon gloves tear through a pile of debris while a sobbing woman hugged her husband beside the property. I can only assume that they found a body, or at least part of one…that image won’t leave me for a while.
Taylor: Like Rachel said, praying with that man was probably the most memorable thing that happened. I could stay the entire summer and work every day, and even then I wouldn’t feel like I had accomplished any significant amount of work. There is much work to be done in Joplin, and even though clearing a yard full of debris doesn’t make a dent, knowing that we could at least pray over a hurting man and provide comfort in that regard is incredibly rewarding.
Were there many volunteers there? Or alot of people just strolling through?
Rachel: There were almost too many volunteers to organize, which was a blessing. There were people on debris clean-up, people offering pick-up trucks for whoever needed them, people giving away boxes, mental health professionals offering free counseling services, etc. While we were working on debris clean-up, a truckload of volunteers would drive by about every 5 minutes and offer us food, drink, towels to wipe our sweat on, chapstick, sunscreen…everything. The hospitality was overwhelming. Unfortunately, there were lots of sightseers as well. The roads were pretty clogged with people and their cameras, and several residents combatted that by putting up spray painted signs that said “This is not a parade,” “Pictures – $15,” and “Put down your camera and lend a hand.” Today lots of people came through to “help,” but they showed up right before Obama came through and were wearing Sperry’s and nice clothes…I didn’t even lose a home and I found it offensive.
Taylor: There were a ton of people in general, but luckily a large majority of them seemed to be volunteers. I have never seen or been a part of any event like this, so I’m not exactly sure what to compare it too, but I can definitely tell you that there was a large amount of people. Rachel pretty much summed up the rest.
Describe the mood/feel of where you were
Rachel: We were helping a doctor clean debris from his father-in-law’s home, and the man was extremely nice and positive and grateful for our help. He was from a neighboring town, and the house was still standing, so I thought that maybe he was in such a good mood because he hadn’t suffered the kind of losses that other people had. He volunteered stories throughout the afternoon, and at one point shared that he had worked in the ER for the first 20 hours after the tornado hit. He didn’t go into detail about the things he saw, but when he was finished telling some of those stories, he told us that he appreciated us just being there to listen, and that our doing so was therapeutic for him. Another family we helped was less talkative, and very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. They seemed like the destruction sucked for them, but didn’t seem very upset. It was like the reality of what happened hadn’t even sunk in a week later.
Taylor: Neither pain nor celebration, everyone was just in work mode. I know that isn’t good storytelling, but it’s the truth. I think maybe the people of Joplin and those affected by the storm were grieving with each other in silence, while those of us volunteering were cheerful and glad to be there to help. There weren’t people sobbing in the streets, and there weren’t large groups circling flags and singing the national anthem. Most people seemed to stick to the work that they knew needed to be done. However, I don’t say that to take away from the generosity of the people that were there. Hospitality, mercy, and service was plentiful.
How to help:
Joplin Missouri Disaster Relief Fund
— Sponsored by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, you can donate online or mail the foundation a check. It will then distribute funds appropriately.
• REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to the Red Cross
• TORNADO to 20222 to help out World Vision
• JOPLIN to 80888 to make a $10 donation to The Salvation Army