A year ago today, a very powerful tornado hit the town we live in. The landscape was bleak - we lost something like 40% of our town's "property value" in a matter of minutes. (Not 40% of the houses, just 40% of the "value". Most of the neighborhoods that were hit had lots of bigger, more expensive homes than the "average" home in our town.)
The afternoon & evening of the tornado was chaotic. Knowing that we wouldn't have power for a significant number of days, and knowing that we'd only be able to cook with the outdoor grill, the kids and I drove about 45 minutes to the next big town in search of a generator & food that could be grilled or eaten without cooking. My husband stayed in town to try to find people who he could help, and because we didn't know if the kids and I would be able to get back into town after we left...someone had to stay here so our cats didn't starve.
The next week was kind of a blur. Once we realized the kids wouldn't be back in school for a while, I took our kids to my parents' house a couple hours away. My husband stayed behind in "camping conditions" (no heat, quickly falling temperatures, & unable to cook), even though his parents who live in our town had their power restored after only 2 days. He went to his regular job, but took off early a couple days to go help with recovery efforts. He was out helping to move debris to the curb for pick-up and helping property owners sort through the possessions that were scattered all over the ground. He took these first two pictures while he was doing that.
He also volunteered at a couple of the places that were collecting donations for victims. The kids and I joined him the day we got back from visiting Grandma & Grandpa. It was really good for all of us to be able to pitch in and actually DO something to help.
Here's what I learned from working at the clothing donation site: 1) ONLY donate things that people can use right now. If it's late fall, don't donate summer pajamas and tank tops. Those sort of things just have to get boxed up and shipped to a different donation site like Goodwill. 2) Don't donate anything that smells like smoke or musty basement. These things will just get thrown away. Same thing goes for anything that is ratty, full of holes, pilled-up sweaters, pants with worn-through knees.... Those went into the garbage as well. 3) It helps A LOT of your donations are sorted in some way - a bag of girl's clothes and a bag of boys, or a bag of toddler girl's clothes, a bag of girl's sizes, a bag of junior's sizes, etc. The boxes that were just a big heap of everything under the sun took a lot longer to get organized.
Since the kids and I were back mid-week and they were still out of school, we went over to the school a couple times to help out there. The school was being used as a base of operations for feeding the crews that were working on clean-up outside. People would either visit the cafeteria mid-day and get a hot lunch, or they'd eat in the field with food supplied from one of the vans driving around. Our school was handing out sandwiches and a couple other things (chips & cookies, maybe?) So the kids and I showed up to help make & wrap sandwiches. I've got them working assembly-line style here. I know other people were taking food to volunteers, too. The local coffee shop was bringing hot coffee around, I heard about a van full of fried chicken and pizza deliveries, too.
While we were at my parents' house, I had a lot of time to think, and a lot of time to sit around and feel like I wish I could be doing more to help. The kids and I came up with an idea for the families we knew that were relocated to temporary housing (mostly hotel rooms this early on). Since the kids were stuck in hotel rooms and had just lost most of their possessions, we decided to make "advent calendars" that we'd deliver before December 1st. They were filled with puzzles, games, craft supplies, coloring books, trinkets, treats, and each kid got either a hand-knit stocking cap (boys) or a headband (girls) made out of our high schools' school colors. I think I made 13 of those in all!
We wrapped everything in very fancy paper bags and each family had one bag to open every day in December. We were able to give these advent calendars to six families. That probably only represents about 1/4 of the families that we personally know that lost their homes, but they were the ones with young children who were hardest hit, so they were the ones we most wanted to help.
We drove all over the place on delivery day - our friends were now very spread out. But it was 100% worth it to be able to do something that put a smile on the kids' faces!
The other thing that kept me busy during this time was the pattern I started working on as soon as we arrived at my parents' house. The Whirlwind socks were released about a month after the tornado thanks to awesome, quick testers that helped me work the kinks out of the pattern that I had quickly written. Much, much later (this past June, to be exact), I found out that I had inadvertently uploaded the test knit version of the pattern rather than the finalized version that incorporated all the suggestions from testers. And yeah, there was a big correction, so I was mortified that for 7 months people had been buying the rough draft. Thank goodness that a Ravelry member messaged me to ask about a problem with the pattern. When I saw her message I thought, "No, we fixed that part during the test knit! Wait a minute.....oh no!" Anyhow, people responded wonderfully and bought lots of copies of the pattern. 100% of the proceeds have been donated to the town's tornado recovery fund that was set up at a local band. Through this date our donations have added up to $295, so thank YOU for helping to contribute!
I'm happy to report that driving through our town now makes us feel happy & hopeful rather than depressed & helpless. New houses are going up everywhere and many families are back in their rebuilt homes. Many more are hoping to be back by Christmas. There are only a hand-full of homes that haven't been touched, and from what I understand it's because owners are having problems with insurance companies and can't do anything until insurance is settled otherwise the company might penalize them. But overall, things are going really, really well.
Tonight we're having a town walk where people will start out at three different locations in the area of town that was badly hit, and the three groups will all walk about a mile to meet at the high school where our top band will be performing a song that the band boosters paid to have commissioned last year in commemoration of the tornado. I believe the band actually performed it at their spring concert last year, but I didn't have a kid at the high school last year, so this will be the first time we get to hear it. Another thing all the schools are asking the kids to do today is wear orange & black, our high school colors. Maybe you can throw on an orange scarf for us today and help celebrate a year of rebuilding!
So on this, the anniversary of our town being destroyed, I can happily say that things are looking very good here. And I thank you for any part you played in that recovery!