By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Maria Socorro Rodriguez credits her “guardian angels” for the opportunity to have a home again.
Rodriguez and her three daughters — Barbara, 18; Karina, 17; and Gabby, 12 — survived the 2011 tornado in a closet at their home at 2320 S. Kentucky Ave.
On Wednesday, they were able to move back into a home rebuilt for them by donations from St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, working with Springfield-based Convoy of Hope.
“We’re so excited,” said Karina, a junior at Joplin High School, of their new house.
The mother, who speaks little English, said through her daughters as interpreters that she is grateful to John and Mary Olson of the St. Vincent de Paul Society for the help the family received. She described the Olsons as her “guardian angels,” and said she also is grateful to God and to the construction workers and volunteers who helped build the new home at the site of the destroyed residence.
Rodriguez worked at El Vaquero Restaurant, 2412 S. Main St., before the tornado. She had come home from work only minutes before the tornado hit on that Sunday, May 22, in 2011.
“We were all cleaning up (the house), and my sister Barbara went out to get the cat” when the tornado sirens blared the warning, Karina said. They piled into a closet that was in the middle of the house. After the ferocious storm, they climbed out of the closet and saw devastation all around them. That closet and one tilting wall of a bedroom were all that remained of their house. “If we had been in another room, we wouldn’t be here now,” Karina said.
They picked through the rubble and found a few items they could salvage. Then they walked down the block to a porch that was still standing and huddled beneath it to get out of the rain.
They finally decided to try to find the Olsons, who live a few blocks away and are involved in the St. Vincent de Paul Society, an international Catholic charitable organization.
Olson said he and his wife knew the Rodriguez family before the tornado. “After the tornado, they came walking up the street with a stock pot and a bag, and that’s all they had left,” he said.
The Olsons took the mother and her girls to stay with the girls’ father temporarily. The St. Vincent society then helped the Rodriguez family move to a rental in a mobile home park. The mother was able to get a job at Maria’s restaurant; El Vaquero also was destroyed by the tornado.
Olson said contributors from 28 states sent donations amounting to about $175,000 to the local St. Vincent de Paul Society. That money allowed the society to help 600 tornado-stricken residents such as the Rodriguez family.
The organization, along with St. Mary’s Catholic Church, funded the rebuilding of the Rodriguez house through Convoy of Hope. It is the seventh house that Convoy of Hope has constructed for Joplin tornado survivors.
Stacy Lamb of Convoy of Hope said the house was constructed to keep costs low for the family. Lamb said insulated concrete forms, manufactured by TF Concrete Forming Systems, were used to build the house, “so it will be energy-efficient and storm-resistant. Their utility bills will be considerably less just because of the construction of the home.”
Olson said the Rodriguez family is one that is easy to help.
“They have been a wonderful family,” he said. “They don’t ask for anything. When we find something (they need), we just get in there and see what we can do for them.”
The St. Vincent de Paul Society was located next to St. Mary’s Catholic Church and school before the tornado, and all were destroyed. The society, which provides assistance with rent, utilities and transportation to people in need, is now located at 512 E. 32nd St.
The church, the school and the St. Vincent’s office will have new buildings on a 47-acre tract next to Wildwood Acres in west Joplin.
OTHER PARTICIPANTS in the Joplin rebuilding effort with Convoy of Hope and TF Concrete Forming Systems are Adam Brady Construction, Alpha Title LLC, Project Safe Home and Joyce Meyer Ministries-Hand of Hope.