By Mike Pound
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Like a lot of folks, Lauri Lyerla was feeling a bit out of sorts in the days immediately after the May 22 tornado.
Lauri, of Neosho, said she and her family were not directly impacted by the storm. Yet, she said, she was saddened by the stories of people who did suffer losses. She said the sadness she felt was very similar to sadness she felt after the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
Her sadness was one a lot of folks know pretty well. It’s a sort of helpless sadness. It’s the sort of sadness that makes you want to right a situation that seemingly can’t be righted.
Lauri said that over the Memorial Day weekend, the word “hope” began popping into her head. The word was on her mind while she watched President Barack Obama’s speech in Joplin. It was on her mind when she read the many messages of support online. It was on her mind when she saw the now classic photo of the Joplin High School sign. You know, the sign on which someone, using tape, spelled out “Hope.”
And hope was still on her mind when she saw, on Facebook, a photo of an unfinished chest of drawers.
“I saw the chest of drawers and I thought it would be neat to paint ‘hope’ on it and then give it to a kid in Joplin who lost everything to the storm,” Lauri said.
Sometimes the best ideas just sort of pop into your head.
Lauri is the manager of Mill Park Center, located at 100 N. College St., just across the street from Big Springs Park in Neosho. The furniture store, owned by her father, John, was founded by Lauri’s grandparents 54 years ago.
After a brief chat with John, Lauri decided to paint the word “hope” on 10 chests of drawers and give them away to tornado victims in Joplin. She also decided to fill the chests with toys, clothing, games, blankets, stuffed animals and other items.
Once the 10 chests of drawers were finished, Lauri went to one of her suppliers to see about purchasing a few more. When the supplier discovered what Lauri planned to do with them, the company donated 30 to her. It was at that point that she decided to set her sights a little higher.
She created a Chests of Hope Facebook page, and within hours her spur-of-the-moment idea of giving away one chest of drawers had taken on a life of its own. Donations began pouring in from everywhere, and nominations for the chests of drawers began arriving at the furniture store.
To date, 50 chests of drawers have either been delivered, are in the process of being delivered or are being prepared to be delivered to kids of all ages throughout the Joplin area. But Lauri said that more chests are need.
“We have enough to do 50 right now, but we have 16 (children) on a waiting list,” Lauri said.
I can only imagine what it must mean to a kid who has lost everything to have someone deliver a brand new chest of drawers filled with all sorts of neat stuff. In many cases, I’m pretty sure one of Lauri’s chests of drawers might be the first piece of new furniture for a kid since the storm.
“It’s just a way to give them something to smile about. It’s a gift to let them know that somebody cares,” she said.
I’m pretty sure that right now, knowing that someone cares is a pretty big deal for a lot of Joplin kids. It might be easy to figure that now, more than a month after the tornado, everyone has sort of moved on with their lives. It might be easy to figure that nobody cares about a kid who lost everything he or she had.
That’s why things like the Chests of Hope matter. That’s why they make a difference. That’s why they are so important.
For more information about the Chests of Hope and about how you can help, visit the Chests of Hope Facebook page. On the page you will find some neat pictures of beaming kids standing next to their new chest of drawers.
The pictures might make you smile. They also might make you cry.
But mainly they will give you hope.