By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
JOPLIN, Mo. —
In the far corner of a shipping container bound for New York are medical supplies. Near the door are piles of blankets and dozens of sleeping bags. In between are diapers, formula and a packet of cards made by Joplin schoolchildren for people displaced by Hurricane Sandy.
“You aren’t alone,” reads one. “It will get better. A new tree will grow.”
The shipping container, once used in relief efforts after the Joplin tornado, is a milestone 18 months later, noted Daniel Wermuth, pastor at Joplin Family Worship Center.
“Things here certainly have gotten better. Now we’re paying it forward,” Wermuth said. “Life is so much fuller when you can connect with others who need your help.”
Wermuth’s church played a major role in the recovery and rebuilding efforts in Joplin as one of the primary staging areas for medical triage and the distribution of supplies.
The church continues to support local families and individuals displaced by the storm.
Wermuth and members of the congregation were on hand Thursday morning as a crew from Ozark Crane hoisted the shipping container from the church lawn onto a semitrailer provided by local trucker Joe Houston.
Those who gathered noted that the slogan printed on the side of the crane, “Let us give you a lift,” was especially appropriate.
The children’s pastor at the church, Lisa Dunn, who recorded the moment with photos and video, said she plans to put the images on Facebook to “get the word out that this is the right thing to do.” She lost her home and belongings in the May 2011 tornado, and went to the church for help. She has worked in recovery and relief ever since.
“This is like medicine, to send relief,” she said. “It brings back such a rush of memories from what we went through.”
The load was on the road by 9 a.m., driven by Houston and Al Prescott, who retired after 23 years in the Joplin area trucking industry. Prescott is a member of the congregation. They planned to share driving duties on the 1,200-mile trip and expected to arrive sometime this morning in New Jersey.
“We think it will take about eight more hours after that to navigate through the debris to our destination in New York,” Prescott said as he prepared for the trip.
Their destination is the Gospel Assembly Church on Coney Island, in a Brooklyn neighborhood that was among the hardest hit. The church, which was flooded and lost power, is now operating as a triage center.
“There’s nothing like it when you can help people like this,” said Prescott, who, like Houston, is a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran. “Especially when you’ve been through it and know how they feel.”
The shipping container was donated to Joplin in July 2011 by a Texas man, Jesse Stokely, who wanted to help. As the founder of the Christian Alliance in 1998, he sends shipping containers to areas that need them after disasters worldwide. He is covering the cost of moving the container from Joplin to New York.
“We used it as a medical dispensary and to treat wounds and cuts by volunteers in the beginning,” Wermuth said. He said some form of medical dispensary might be needed for volunteers as rebuilding efforts in Joplin continue.
“But now, it’s important it get to the East Coast,” he said. “There, the ministry on Coney Island can use it to treat those who are hurting.”
The Joplin church plans to send additional supplies to New York as needs are identified. But Prescott noted that the work in Joplin isn’t done yet.
“We still have underground storage in Carthage, which was donated, where we have frozen chicken and other food that we distribute as needed,” he said. “And Joe Houston’s eight trailers he donated to use here at the church are still here. We also have a load of toys coming from Fort Worth to share with children at Christmas. We’re going to be here awhile.”
Prescott noted that people from New York came to Joplin and volunteered, and many sent donations in the wake of the tornado.
“What goes around, comes around,” Prescott said.
LODGE 27 of the Southwest Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, R&R Trucking, the Joplin Enforcers football team and Qdoba Mexican Grill will collaborate on Saturday to collect a semitrailer’s worth of supplies, including nonperishable food, clothing, bottled water and hygiene products.
THE GOODS will be collected at the restaurant, 3102 E. Seventh St., from 9 a.m. until the trailer is full or 8 p.m., whichever comes first, and will be taken to the East Coast for distribution to hurricane victims.