By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
MOORE, Okla. —
Joplin is paying it forward.
The day before the two-year anniversary of an EF-5 tornado leveling one-third of Joplin, pastors from Ignite Church in Joplin were in Moore, where an EF-5 spent 40 minutes on the ground on Monday.
“It was deja vu. It was very reminiscent,” said Shane Munn, Ignite campus pastor, on Tuesday afternoon. “But it was a good feeling to know what they’re going through and to be able to empower them, to really be able to pay it forward.”
The aftermath of the two tornadoes was similar: leveled homes and businesses, twisted metal in trees, cars crushed and upside down, a medical center and two schools destroyed.
Also: large orange X’s on homes that had been searched, helicopters crisscrossing the sky overhead, dogs sniffing for survivors or victims.
And help pouring in from every direction.
Munn, Ignite lead pastor Heath Mooneyham and pastoral assistant Tim Palley were on the road to Moore by 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, armed with a stack of forms they found invaluable during Joplin’s tornado recovery.
“After the Joplin tornado, it took about four days for us to get streamlined, and we wanted to get connected to a church in Moore right away,” Munn said.
They did: Journey Church in nearby Norman was eager for help. With a congregation of 8,000 members and just on the outskirts of Moore, pastor Alan Sample said it was a logical place to stage relief efforts. Within hours of the tornado touching down, the church was flooded with donations and volunteers.
“When we made a connection, it was like the skies opened up and heaven poured down,” Munn said. “They were overwhelmed. They’re just trying to respond to immediate needs, and soon they’ll have to turn the corner on sustaining.”
Munn’s team shared with Sample’s team copies of forms and systems of organization that worked in the weeks and months after the Joplin tornado.
“Stuff like work order forms, so they can be efficient with equipment, where to go, the number of people needed and how long they’ll be needed,” Munn said. “And volunteer releases. Things that will help them be ahead of the game.”
Sample said the Joplin team brought to his church “some great advice from what they’d learned.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the church was a model of efficiency as volunteers on the parking lot directed carloads of donations through a circle drive at the front door, where other volunteers loaded the supplies onto dollies. Inside, more volunteers processed and directed the donations, which included household goods, clothing, diapers, bottled water and food, and a door greeter directed volunteers to a sign-in area.
“It is such an incredible learning experience the Joplin team shared with us,” Sample said. “It’s priceless, and hopefully one day we can pass it forward to someone else.”
Volunteers also streamed in from other cities. A team of volunteers called the Comanche Nation Angels from Lawton walked the streets, offering pizza to anyone they saw.
“We came this morning to try to provide our services,” said Tiffany McIntosh, one of the team. “We wanted to help.”
Lani Manuel, of Bartlesville, drove in with 100 cases of bottled water and walked the streets handing them out with her sister, Teresa Wyman.
“It feels humbling,” Wyman said. “All these people, they have nothing. Nothing.”
Matthew Cervantes, a San Antonio resident who had come to Midwest City to visit a friend, Shawn Cook, said the two responded at daybreak Tuesday.
“We started at a day care and then houses nearby, picking up debris and looking for family photos,” Cook said as he paused from raking remnants of shingles and splintered wood from a stranger’s yard on 37th Street.
“I would want the same thing,” he said.
Cervantes said he was shocked by the destruction and debris.
“But we felt like we needed to come,” he said. “There’s no other place we’d rather be.”
While Moore swelled with volunteers — just like Joplin did after its tornado — there also were neighbors helping neighbors and family helping family.
Taylor Tennyson, a senior at Southmoore High School in Moore, spent the day digging through the remains of the home of her aunt and uncle on Telephone Road.
“I’m exhausted,” she said as she rested on a makeshift stool in the front yard amid piles of salvaged household items.
“This house has been here forever. Cousins are here — we’re all helping.”
Allison Butler, who is seven months’ pregnant, rode out the Moore tornado in her bathtub with her 3-year-old daughter, Samantha. On Tuesday, she picked up a rake, accepted gloves from a stranger and began raking debris from her neighbor’s yard.
Butler didn’t know the neighbor’s name, she said, because she just moved in to her house a week ago.
“It’s what neighbors do,” she said.
MOORE HAS A POPULATION of about 56,000 people; Joplin has a population of about 50,000. Both cities have been hit three times by tornadoes in recent decades.