By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Immanuel Lutheran Church in Joplin has received a $203,000 grant from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for the construction of two safe rooms on the church campus.
The safe rooms will be used as preschool classrooms for Martin Luther School, which the church operates on its campus, and will be open during inclement weather to the school’s 150 students, congregational members and residents, the pastor of the church said.
“We are putting them in front of the school just so that they can be available to the entire community, if necessary,” the Rev. Gregory Mech said. “It certainly is going to let people know that there is an alternative for them, that there is a possibility that they have a place to go.”
Mech said the safe rooms will be designed by a local firm and will be able to withstand the winds of an EF-5 tornado, which are around 200 mph. He said the church plans to canvass the surrounding neighborhood to let residents know that the safe rooms will be open during bad weather, as well as provide notifications on an electronic sign in front of the school and church.
Mech said the project will cost about $500,000. In addition to the grant, the remaining funds could come from insurance proceeds, donations and financial support from the congregation and a separate construction fund that was already in place at the church, he said.
Members of Immanuel Lutheran responded immediately following the May 2011 tornado, despite damage to both the church and school, Mech said. They took food and water out into the tornado zone as residents and volunteers cleaned properties and removed debris. They also opened part of the school on Sundays so another church congregation that had lost its building in the tornado could hold worship services.
Church members eventually organized Transform Joplin, a disaster response ministry operating out of a former cabinet factory at 12th Street and Wall Avenue. Participants in Transform Joplin have coordinated more than 5,000 volunteers and sponsored the construction of several homes through Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing, church leaders said.
With help from the Missouri Synod, which is based in St. Louis, and its district office, as well as thousands of individuals and other congregations, the church has given more than $1 million to tornado survivors.
Nearly two years after the tornado, church members continue to assist in recovery and rebuilding efforts — not only in Joplin, but also in other disaster-stricken areas, Mech said. A church team will visit flood-ravaged Minot, N.D., soon, he said, and a team has also worked in hurricane relief efforts along the Florida coast.
“Really, we have some highly motivated people who are responding and paying it forward as well,” Mech said.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the safe room project at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 2616 Connecticut Ave., is scheduled for May 22.