Just more than a week ago, people across the nation sprang into action in an effort to provide relief and supplies for the thousands of people affected by what has been deemed one of America’s deadliest tornadoes.
Within minutes of hearing of the devastation in Joplin on May 22, Maryville resident Brandon Smith knew he needed to help.
“I watched it on the news, like everyone else, and instantly thought that I wished there was something I could do to help,” he said. “I climbed into bed and told my wife I was probably going to Joplin.”
Smith, campus minister for the Christian Campus House at Northwest Missouri State University, awoke the next morning and began his campaign for relief.
He typed up a small request for a few basic items and posted it on his blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts. He also sent that request via email to one person, a fellow minister within Maryville.
The message stated that between the hours of 10 a.m. and midnight, he would be at the Christian Campus House with a trailer to collect any donated items for transport to Joplin.
By early afternoon the first trailer and vehicle were full and Smith was looking for reinforcements.
A second trailer and vehicle were filled with the baby supplies, toiletries, clothing and water by 5 p.m. at which point Smith knew they hadn’t seen the end of the flood that was community support.
“I knew with people not able to get off work until 5 p.m. that things probably wouldn’t slow down,” he said. “Our third trailer was full by 9 p.m. and everything that we collected after that had to stay here and was later taken to the radio station for their collection effort.”
Individuals and representatives from area businesses and schools all arrived on campus to make their contribution.
“It got too big for just me and my family to deal with,” Smith said. “It was going to be just me and a student making the trip but then we were able to find some more volunteers.”
Smith said he fielded more than 90 phone calls that day, some from individuals as far away as Michigan wanting to help.
“That one little e-mail was everywhere,” he said. “The community responded so quickly, I think that there were just tons of other people aching to help.”
Along with the five volunteers Smith was also able to secure that day, their crew drove through the night to Joplin arriving in the early morning hours.
After a few, brief hours of sleep Smith said he began making phone calls to a Joplin church in an effort to find a drop off location for their supplies.
“I kept trying to call the church with no luck,” Smith said. “It was too hard to get through there. So we loaded up and just drove there.”
When they arrived at the church, with their trailers of supplies, they weren’t the only ones with the same idea. Smith estimated more than 500 volunteers from across the nation were there, also unloading collected supplies.
“It really wasn’t a big deal that we were there with our trailers of supplies,” he said. “We were in the middle of a line of people bringing supplies.”
The damage witnessed first-hand by Smith and the other volunteers was “worse than they thought.”
The few words Smith could use to describe the devastation from the tornado that killed more than 130 people included: “awful,” “erased,” and “annihilation.”
“There really isn’t a way to put it into words,” he added. “I wasn’t emotionally prepared as much as I would have liked to be.”
Only staying long enough to drop off the collected items, all but one of Smith’s volunteers returned to their families and lives in Nodaway County. The one who remained stayed for an entire week to help in any way he could.
“The people we got to know in the short time we were there were incredibly grateful,” Smith said. “It’s hard to take any credit for what we did. All I did was send an e-mail and share it online.”
Here is an article our local newspaper ran today about our relief efforts in Joplin last week.