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Being Called to Serve: Locals help victims of Joplin tornado

By Cindy Roller


Cooper – In this time of reflection on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, trying to find good in all that tragedy is hard to do. However sometimes in life these events bring out the best in people.

Late on a Sunday afternoon last May Joplin, Missouri was devastated by an EF5 multiple-vortex tornado. It was part of a larger late-May tornado outbreak sequence and reached a maximum width of 1 mile during its path through the southern part of the city. The new Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale) lists an EF5 as a tornado with winds above 200 mph.

"We were watching the news when we got the call to serve and help," said New Life Baptist Church youth minister Lonnie Sanders.

Sanders led three different trips with family and local adults and youth to assist survivors in Joplin.

"The first trip was my wife, our two children and I and 10,000 pounds of donated supplies," Sanders said. "The next trip we took 35 people including some from the First Baptist Church in Cooper and on the third 22 went."

The May 2011 tornado was the deadliest tornado to hit the United States since 1947 - the seventh-deadliest single tornado in U.S. history, and 27th-deadliest in World history. Officials reported that 159 people died from the tornado, with another killed by a lightning strike during cleanup operations the next day.

Sanders said the first trip was mainly for the delivery of donations and they helped with the "little things." After a fund raising softball tournament two weeks later, the group ventured out for their second 6-hour road trip.

"We helped tear down houses and cleanup during our second trip," noted Sanders, a high school science teacher at Cooper. "The last time we built 22 bunk beds and helped move schools. The teens were very excited yet at the same time very overwhelmed by the destruction."

It was 10-12 hours of work a day - outside - with no complaints. Everyone learned to swing a hammer and push a wheel barrel. Through it all, many made friends they will not soon forget.

"The teens were begging us to go back," said the youth minister in his seventh year at New Life Baptist Church in Cooper. "We are going to try to go again during the Thanksgiving break. We put our trust in God to provide. We have been blessed in the support and donations given. We are thankful to the people of Delta County."

Others interested in joining are welcome. Sanders said he could see progress being made but it would be a few years after the total destruction.

Currently, they are accepting monetary donations, as this is the best way to help boost the economy of Joplin and the surrounding areas.

"If we take the money and buy the supplies from stores in Missouri, it helps promote jobs and local businesses," mentioned Sanders.

He said money donated goes into a special Joplin fund to be used for that purpose only.
Spanning the three trips, Sanders calculated they had spent 20 days (of the summer) and logged 6,000 miles.

"It was busy, but it was good," said Sanders.