CDS Volunteers Go to Springfield, Complete Joplin Response

Photo by Lorna Grow
CDS volunteer Pearl Miller reads with a child in Joplin, Missouri, following severe tornadoes

A new response site for Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) is Springfield, Mass., which was hit by a tornado on June 2. A team of five CDS volunteers began work there late last week in response to a call from the American Red Cross.

In Springfield, the CDS team is working in the Mass Mutual shelter–a multi purpose arena and convention center. “The center is working well,” reports CDS associate director Judy Bezon.

The Springfield Tornado has just been “declared,” Bezon says, “which means the President has identified it as a major disaster area, which in turn makes federal resources available to those whose homes have been destroyed.” She expects FEMA to open eight Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) where people come to apply for aid. “We have had preliminary talks with the FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaisons about setting up child care centers in some of their DRCs,” she adds.

Meanwhile, CDS volunteers are completing a project to care for children of families living in shelters in Joplin, Mo. Previously this spring, CDS also served in Tuscaloosa, Ala., after tornado destruction there in April.

The last CDS volunteers will leave Joplin today. A total of 28 CDS volunteers have worked there since the tornado. The response has lasted well past the standard time limit of two weeks for CDS volunteers, so new volunteers have been rotated in while others left after completing their two weeks. “The last few days, CDS volunteers who lived locally drove in to help us–they couldn’t stay an entire week,” Bezon reports. “The Red Cross Case Workers worked hard to find places for the last people in the shelter to live. Generally we leave a few days before the shelter closes, as numbers of children are dwindling.”

Bezon herself worked in Joplin up until last week as part of a Critical Response Childcare team that was deployed because of the high number of fatalities. That specially trained team was “very very needed in the shelters,” she says. Some of the children in the Joplin shelters required intensive caregiving.

Photo by Lorna Grow
CDS volunteer Rosemary Brandenberg engages a child in water play after severe tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri.

The CDS volunteers in Joplin handled an especially stressful situation very well, Bezon says gratefully. “It was a hardship because the volunteers were living in the shelters, and the work was so difficult. The sheer number of children and the behavioral needs were very intense.”

The destruction in the area of Joplin hit by the tornado is “just unbelievable,” in Bezon’s words. The path of the tornado was a mile wide and six miles long, and passed through low and middle income areas. “Everything in its path was completely flattened,” she says. “It looks barren in every way.”

One reason the shelters in Joplin had been needed for longer than usual was that damaged homes continued to be condemned and demolished, forcing families to find other places to live when all available housing and hotels were already full, Bezon explains. Many residents “doubled up” by sharing their homes with friends. The people left in the shelters were those without the connections or the money to find other places to live.

In other disaster relief news, Brethren Disaster Ministries has just learned that it will receive a grant for $52,500 from the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee for the rebuilding work in the Nashville area.

The Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) has given $5,000 to Brethren Disaster Ministries for assessment and project development following the 2011 spring storms in the US. The money will help BDM staff gather information, attend meetings, and travel to disaster sites.

An EDF grant of $4,000 has been given to aid the community of Union Victoria CPR in Guatemala, following wind damage to a suspension bridge used for transporting coffee beans to market.

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