Helping hands in the midst of disaster

JOPLIN, Mo. (General Assembly Mission Council) The scores of spring
tornadoes that swept through Eastern and Midwestern states this year left
widespread devastation, nowhere worse than in Joplin, Mo.

The tornado that hit Joplin May 22 “ripped through a mile and a half wide
for six or seven miles and took down everything,” said Missouri resident
Kathy Morriss, co-chair of disaster assistance for the Presbyterian Church
U.S.A.’s John Calvin Presbytery. “It’s a catastrophe that I never thought I
would see.”

The Washington Post reported that the Joplin tornado was the single
deadliest tornado since officials began keeping records in 1950. The twister
destroyed a third of the town, and more than 150 people perished as a result.
Thousands have signed up for housing help, and mounds of debris remain.

The community is being surrounded by volunteers, including those from the
PC(USA). Throngs of Presbyterians from near and far have rallied to the
cause, and many more are still coming, local leaders say.

The response “was really sort of unbelievable,” said Pam George, a member
of First Presbyterian Church of Joplin, who is handling the scheduling of
volunteers coming to help. Immediately after the tornado, the church began
receiving calls from people wanting to come, she said.

The church has welcomed more than 100 volunteers from across the United
States, and booking continues, said the facilities coordinator. “I have already
got somebody scheduled for next July,” George said.

John Robinson, the associate for national response for the PC(USA)’s
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, said PDA has sent several teams to
Joplin and will continue to equip and support the community and incoming
volunteers for the long haul.

“We will be doing long-term recovery there,” he said, adding that PDA
belongs to National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. “We (PDA)
are frequently the last one to leave the field.”

Recently PDA consulted with 17 presbyteries from that area to look at
how to do long-term recovery, Robinson said. The storms this spring
were “unprecedented,” so hosting a meeting such as this was essential, he

Kathy Morriss said on July 20 that her presbytery was wrapping up the first
of two scheduled volunteer trips to Joplin to help with the cleanup. For this
first three-day trip, more than 50 people from 19 churches signed up to go,
she said.

“I think that’s incredible,” said Morriss, who chairs the presbytery’s disaster
effort with her husband, Todd. “We had one couple in their ’80s.”

She said their volunteers worked with AmeriCorps at one of its three
operations – in the field removing debris, at a distribution site and at a call

“The majority of our group does go out to the field and work,” Morriss
said. “What we did today was demolish a house that an older couple was
living in.”

Ultimately the work makes the volunteers “very aware of how rewarding it
is to help people who need help,” she said. “You know someone is going to
benefit from that work.”

For information on how to contribute to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance,
please visit their website: Click here