Monthly Archives: May 2011


My wife and I got the opportunity to spend some more time today working through the ruins in Joplin, Missouri.

There’s more for me to write: I had anticipated on writing about the three stories we encountered today, but those will have to wait a little bit longer. We’ve been out two (not full, but still) days now. We’re both sunburned, even with sunblock. Our muscles are a bit sore and today we battled wind and dust in the eyes all afternoon long.

We are exhausted.

I am not complaining. In fact, I have really enjoyed the work. I merely mention these details to give a glimpse of what it’s like volunteering. I want you to be prepared, because I want you to come help. Before you come, or in case you can’t, here are a few things the volunteers of Joplin can really benefit from. I’m unsure if there are organizations taking care of these items specifically, but I am sure anyone helping Joplin can benefit from them.

Boots on the ground. There’s loads of work to do and it can only get done with people doing the hard, nasty work. By “boots on the ground,” I mean this quite literally. If you’re going to be helping out in the rubble, you’ll need a good pair of work boots. Nails are everywhere and it only takes a misstep to turn you from a volunteer to a first aid recipient. Workers drive around given tetanus shots just in case. I got mine today since it had been too long since my last one.

I’ve been told of reports of people being turned away when they’ve showed up to help. This has not been my experience. Amy and I went to three different locations today, walked up to someone and said “How can we help?” We were instantly off to work.

Related: United Way Joplin Storm Recovery Project List

Gloves, rubber bins, shovels, brooms and sunblock. We showed up ready to work the first day and quickly realized we didn’t have everything we needed. Like boots, I highly recommend leather gloves that fit well and sunblock to help prevent sunburn. But rubber bins, shovels and brooms? These are necessary items to help people recover their belongings and get them out of their former homes before they’re bulldozed and cleared off. Rubber bins are in short supply. A relative who works at Walmart told me “Those rubber bins are flying off the shelves as soon as we get them in.”

Please donate these items.

Money. Your monetary donations to the Red Cross, United Way and tons of other organizations are really needed. But also, supporting remaining businesses in Joplin will go a long way, too. There are some businesses that have been removed from the face of the earth. Others, like Walmart and Home Depot, have vowed to rebuild, but their workers will have to find something else to do in the meantime. I’m not sure how all that works. It will be interesting to see how it pans out for those employees.

Counseling. We attended a church service this morning and my heart broke with the sounds and sights of those weeping over the loss of loved ones. There will be extensive psychological needs that need to be met. Counseling, therapy, hugs from friends and family, the kindness of strangers: these are expensive things. They require time, effort, and “listening ears.” I hope these needs aren’t neglected.

I wish I could write so much more, but my eyes are heavy. We leave here tomorrow and I’m not sure when we can return to help, but I hope there are others who keep the ball rolling.

Until then, I’ve got a few more stories to tell. Stay tuned.


I spent the day in Joplin, Missouri digging through the ruins of my friend’s home.

My friend, best man from my wedding and occasional canoeing buddy, English teacher Jeff Page, lived at 2301 Pennsylvania in Joplin. His home was completely destroyed by an F5 tornado on Sunday, May 22.

Jeff managed to survive the storm by standing in a doorway between the front room and his kitchen. It was an older home, one with the kind of wood that creeked elegantly as you went up the stairs, and likewise, had some decent wood throughout the home. He had a crawlspace, but the storm was on him so fast, he didn’t have time to get to it.

Somehow, he survived.

He showed me the hole he crawled out of after his home collapsed on him. He managed to escape with only a sprained ankle and 20 cuts, although he hasn’t found his cat, Cranberry. Jeff told me, “The only thing I am really upset about is losing the cat!”

This is the hole my friend, Jeff, crawled out of to get to safety after his house collapsed around him.

Our mission today was simple: Do whatever we could to recover anything of value Jeff wanted to keep. We recovered only a few handfuls of items. Some of that wasn’t in great shape after having been rained on for a few days after the storm. I was pretty proud of my ability to find a few coins he was interested in finding, but I wish we could have recovered more.

The front of the house destroyed by the tornado.

A quick sidenote: Interestingly enough, Jeff’s car wouldn’t start – no click, no turn, nothing. I’ve heard there are other similar stories after the storm. I found this curious: Can tornadoes emit an electromagnetic pulse?

No matter what’s shown in the media, you’ve already realized it doesn’t compare to seeing it in person. The air was thick. The smell of gasoline and oil wafted around us as we worked. The drone of chainsaws echoed around the  remains of the splinters that used to be called a neighborhood.

There were about 10 of us total throughout the day, working from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Our efforts were stymied by the huge mass of wood, shingles and other materials that was seemingly unmovable. The rest will likely end up in a landfill, burned, or whatever they do in times like these. At the end of the day, we can say we did our best, recovered a few things and all of us celebrated the survival of our friend through the storm.

"In prosperity your friends know you. In adversity, you know your friends." — Unknown

As we left, my wife and I traveled east through Joplin to survey more of the damage. I can describe it best as hell. At several points I realized I wasn’t sure where I was while I was driving. Recognizable landmarks were gone. Street signs were nonexistent. I grew up very close to Joplin and have been down these streets many, many times. That bit of “home” for me doesn’t exist anymore. It’s dead.

I really don’t know the people of Joplin move forward. There’s so much to clean up. Rebuilding will take years. The grief of getting over the loss of loved ones will take a lifetime.

Kiss your loved ones. Do things that matter. Don’t waste your life. Be prepared for the storms.

They will come.

Update (11/08/2011): On November 7, 2011, Jeff was reunited with his cat, Cranberry, who ended up making it through the storm after all and was found by an animal rescuer.


“I’m sorry we’re late,” my wife says as she begins unloading our daughters from our van. “We were rear-ended.”

Seeing they were OK, I examined the bumper. There wasn’t any noticeable damage and she assured me she had the driver’s information.

“He said he was sorry,” she continued. “He said he got distracted looking at a girl.”

I chuckled.

“I understand,” I said with a smile.

So remember, guys, gals and phones can distract – please keep your eyes on the road.

Staring down the barrel

I overheard my co-worker on the phone a couple of days ago talking to her dad.

Money is running tight, his wife has been sick on and off again and his social security and retirement isn’t quite going far enough. Oh sure, he saved for retirement. He invested and did the right things and they don’t live in an extravagant house.

His investments took a hit after 9/11 and housing crash and with food and energy prices going up, he’s back on the job hunt. He’s 71 years old.

It’s stories like him and that of my childhood neighbor that make me think we’re living in a fantasy land of doom. For those of us “lucky” enough to be able to invest, if we think our 401(k)s/mutual funds/insert corrupt investment tool here is going to be enough to care for us when we’re older then we might be fooling ourselves.

For those who can’t afford any of that retirement planning, you might be better off (if the lack of health care doesn’t do you in first).

Quite honestly, I don’t want all that when I’m older. I want it now while I can still pull up my pants without needing help and can walk two blocks and still remember who I am.

I’m in a weird place right now. Beliefs are being challenged. Black is white, up is down, passivity has turned to rage.

I’m OK with all of that. At least I’m not complacent.