By Steve Koehler
When a major tornado disaster tore through Joplin, Mo. on Sunday, May 22, Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) College responded with the speed, flexibility and organization that is a community college’s forte.
In less than 24 hours, OTC, in partnership with the Journal Broadcast Group, began collecting tons of needed goods and tens of thousands of dollars for Joplin’s tornado victims, who live just 60 miles west of the College.
As of Monday, May 31, monetary donations surpassed $71,000 and last Friday morning, the eighth and ninth trucks left OTC for Joplin.
The southeast corner of OTC’s Springfield, Mo., campus came alive as thousands of good-hearted people in the Springfield Metropolitan area streamed on campus for four days, bringing with them everything imaginable for the relief effort.
It was an overwhelming sight for College officials and volunteers to see.
“OTC was happy and proud to serve as a conduit between those who wanted to give and those in need in Joplin. The work of the volunteers and the generosity of those who gave speak volumes about the people in this community. Whenever there is a need they are ready to lend a helping hand,” said Dr. Hal L. Higdon, president of Ozarks Technical Community College.
“We also want to thank Prime Inc. and Jim Towery at Steelman Transportation for the use of several semi-trailers to transport the items to Joplin. And the effort of the radio stations of the Journal Broadcast Group played a big part in bringing people to campus. Without their contribution, the effort would not have been as successful as it was.”
Kim Greene, a volunteer from the OTC Online office, said the turnout amazed her.
“We should be proud of what this amazing community is doing. They make this the best place to live,” she said.
The stories of those who have contributed or volunteered are touching and amazing.
Monday night, an unemployed man delivered a case of water, and said it was all he could afford. A woman contributed $1 she received after she returned a loaf of bread to her grocery store to get a refund.
Two small children riding with their parents to the drop-off site wanted to donate the car seats they were riding in.
The Girl Scouts showed up Tuesday night with 9,312 boxes of Girl Scout cookies.
People dropped off checks of $1,000, $2,000 and $2,500. A member of a local church brought a check for $5,000 Friday afternoon.
A mother with two children stopped by, one child held a dollar, the other, two dollars. And an elementary school brought over $1,100 in dollars and coins. One child came with $31 in change contained in four plastic sandwich bags and an Easter egg.
Volunteers thought their work was over one night when man with an enormous collection of goods from Jefferson County, Missouri, near St. Louis, rolled onto campus at 9 p.m. They unloaded a long horse trailer filled with water and other needed items before returning home.
The College updated their Facebook and Twitter accounts constantly to apprise the community of special needs and times of collection. A local group of radio stations broadcast live from the scene for four days urging contributions. Several local companies donated thousands of empty boxes for packing.
The College received calls from across the country.
Someone from northern Minnesota called to say a car seat and baby bassinette was on the way. Another person in Arizona had new women’s clothes to send. The Marine Corp League from Tuscaloosa, Ala., was coming with water. An Atlanta-based company was sending flashlights and batteries. A delivery truck was coming from Kansas City filled with items.
People came with their own stories of victims they knew in Joplin. They had once lived there themselves or knew people who had lost loved ones, homes or all their belongings.
Within a day of starting the relief effort two tractor-trailers, each hauling about 35,000 pounds of goods, left for Joplin. College officials found College Heights Christian Church near Joplin that was accepting large donations.
But in the short time it took to get to Joplin, the church was overflowing and couldn’t accept any more donations.
The grounds of the church were covered with all types of items when the first OTC semi rolled in.
Long, deep rows of water were stacked on the church’s sidewalk. Mound after mound of clothing was heaped against the church wall, covered with blue tarps in anticipation of yet another storm that was expected to slam Joplin that night.
The College trucks were directed to Crossroads Warehouse, owned by a church member.
“It’s fantastic to see what everyone is doing. They’re doing whatever it takes,” said one church volunteer.
Volunteers, members of the OTC Bookstore, and warehouse workers unloaded the first OTC semi in 80 minutes. All the goods were stacked in the cavernous warehouse among row after row of other items — everything from baby food, pet food, charcoal, energy drinks and paper goods were there in long, tall rows.
Since that first load, eight more OTC trucks have delivered goods to Joplin.
While the College truck didn’t drive into the devastated area, there was plenty of evidence along Interstate 44 that the tornado was massive and destructive.
Mile after mile, trees looked like a giant foot had stepped them on. Other trees that escaped destruction were strewn with bits of paper, insulation and home siding. Boards stuck in the ground like javelins. Metal was twisted around highway signs like tin foil.
Another volunteer who lived in Joplin couldn’t make out landmarks in town after the tornado hit. He described it as something out of a science fiction movie.
But one of the most compelling stories comes from Tanya Willhite, 22, who graduated from Missouri State University just over a week ago.
Tanya knows Joplin very well. She grew up in Carl Junction, Mo., just a few miles east of Joplin. Many of her friends and classmates lived in Joplin.
“We all go to Joplin. We shop there. We do everything there,” she said.
She went shopping in Joplin with her parents the day before the tornado hit and was at her parents’ home in Carl Junction Sunday when the destruction took place.
She spent Sunday and part of Monday trying to contact her Joplin family and friends.
Tanya, who lived in Springfield while attending Missouri State, was back in Springfield Monday when she heard about the relief effort at OTC.
She came to OTC Tuesday and Wednesday to volunteer in the relief effort. She couldn’t help Thursday — she was getting her gall bladder removed.
“I’d be there but I’ll be unconscious. I’m so glad this is here for the people of Joplin. This was so great. I can’t thank everyone enough for what they did. As soon as I get out of the hospital, I’m going to Joplin to help there,” she said.
Steve Koehler is coordinator of publications at Ozarks Technical Community College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
College Director of Communications
Coordinator of Publications
Phone: (417) 447-2666