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Helping the Heartland

Less than a month ago, a small, proud community just 30 miles from our office was visited by a tornado. Other writers use terms like “devastated,” “ripped apart,” and “shattered” to describe the impact left by a tornado. But that is not all that happened in Perryville, Missouri.

Yes, homes were ripped apart, belongings were shattered, and tragically, loved ones were devastated upon hearing of the one death and the loss of a son, brother, cousin, nephew. While this sadness is deep and life-changing, this community is just as complete and whole as it was a month ago, which is why I find myself using the term “visited” by a tornado.

People unknowingly traveling along Interstate 55 were unprepared for the cars from a nearby salvage yard that hurtled at them like missiles. Some families had warning and were able to dash into a cellar or cower in a bathtub. Even those with time to grab money, medications and, most importantly, family, had no way of preparing for what was coming.

Yet, somehow, they instantly knew how to recover and rebuild. Immediately, as we humans tend to do, people were digging, removing, lifting, helping, and providing any and all assistance they could deliver. As did United Way of Southeast Missouri.

We also quickly sprang into action, establishing an emergency fund and promising our donors that every penny donated would go right back into the community of Perryville. Thus far we have collected more than $60,000! While our hearts ache for the people in Perryville, they also swell with pride at the depth of care demonstrated by the giving people of this region.

Our partner agencies that excel during emergencies--First Call for Help, American Red Cross, and The Salvation Army—were there to meet the immediate needs. They provided hygiene items, clothing, food, water, information, and did their best to find housing in a place where temporary options are minimal. The funds donated to UWSEMO support these agencies and also will go toward long-range help through our investment in Perry County Schools.

We are one of many agencies that comprise a Long-Term Recovery Committee (LTRC) devoted to helping Perryville rebuild. Each family in need works with a case manager. These needs are brought before the LTRC to identify and deliver the required resources.

United Way also began collecting funds to help repair about a dozen homes in South Cape that were hit by high winds within a week of the Perryville tornado. Again, we are part of a LTRC working together to help our neighbors.

We know rebuilding will be a slow and painful process, especially for the people of Perryville. But we have no doubt this community has the courage, graciousness, and love for their city and neighbor to come through it even stronger than the winds that will never tear it down.

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