JOPLIN, Mo. —
Thirty bicyclists departed from Joplin on Thursday for an 800-mile trek to New Orleans, but while one goal was still far away, another was in sight.
The riders hope to raise $150,000 to build homes for families hit by the 2011 Joplin tornado, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy last fall.
The JOMONOLA riders started at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 2423 W. 26th St., after seven months of training and fundraising. City officials, family members and friends gathered to see them off.
The riders took a tour through Joplin’s tornado path along 26th Street before traveling 69 miles to Rogers, Ark., where they were to finish for the day.
The riders so far have raised about $120,000, and they hope to secure the rest on their 10-day journey.
The funds will go to the New Orleans-based St. Bernard Project, Rebuild Joplin, and nonprofit groups in New York and New Jersey.
“This will put $50,000 into each of these areas, and that will get us a home in each place,” said Jim Feeney, a Rhode Island native and one of the organizers of the effort. He also is participating in the ride.
“We have had so much work and training to get this money raised, and now that hard work is paying off by the 30 people crazy enough to come along on this ride today.”
The ride is named for its starting point — Joplin, Mo. — and its ending point in New Orleans, La.
Feeney was on the ground in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina with the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding. It has rebuilt more than 475 homes and still has a waiting list of more than 100 families.
The St. Bernard Project also provided a blueprint for many of the efforts of Rebuild Joplin.
The idea for the bicycle ride sprang out of talks between Feeney and Jerrod Hogan, Rebuild Joplin executive director, as they discussed what needed to be done for the families that were displaced.
During Thursday’s opening remarks, Hogan recalled a trip to the temporary housing set up near Joplin’s airport by the Federal Emergency Management Agency soon after the tornado.
“I saw a couple of kids pushing gravel together in front of their FEMA trailer as they were playing, and I asked my daughter what she would want someone like us, who were lucky, to do,” Hogan said. “She simply told me that we have to help.”
Hogan and his wife, Melissa, are on the ride.
That same desire to help propelled many of the other riders, including New Orleans resident Chad Carson.
“An event like this reminds you how beautiful the word ‘community’ is and how it extends to something far greater than just where you are located,” Carson said. “We’re all connected and united through these terrible disasters, but at the same time you are seeing so much good coming out of the people giving so much to put these people back into their homes.”
The riders are securing housing at the end of each day through local churches.
For Thomas Corley, of Joplin, another organizer and team leader, the trip and the fundraising have proved to be both difficult and rewarding.
“There is a huge practical commitment from the riders by having them take off work for such a long time, and then there is the personal commitment that many of us got from our families,” Corley said. “We’ve been in hard mode on this for five months now, and we still have the actual trip to go. This will be worth it, though, by getting those people back into the homes that they belong in.”
The JOMONOLA ride is expected to conclude June 30 in New Orleans.
On the Net
TO MAKE A DONATION, track the course of the riders and learn more about JOMONOLA, people may go to jomonola.org.