In our lifetime not many of us will experience the humbling forces of Mother Nature or the extreme shock and devastation of surviving a natural disaster.
But, last week my coworkers and I, along with 250 volunteers from America’s leading retailers caught a glimpse of what it means to live through such a tragedy. We traveled to the Midwestern city of Joplin, Missouri, where two months ago a deadly tornado brought devastation and left the city in ruins.
RILA and its members, in partnership with Operation Blessing traveled to Joplin on July 13th to take part in the large-scale clean-up and rebuilding effort already underway there. In the weeks after the tornado, we heard first-hand from our members who operate in the Joplin area about the enormity of this disaster and its devastating effect on their employees and the thousands of customers they serve, and one thing was clear, we wanted to help.
We arrived in Joplin that Wednesday for our first full day of work not knowing quite what to expect, and when I tell you that words cannot express the level of destruction in Joplin or the emotions churning from victims, it is no exaggeration. As far as the eye could see was only the rubble of a once bustling city.
What struck me most was that Joplin Missouri could be any of our home towns, and in fact for my RILA colleague Kylee Coffman it was. It is a community, like countless others across America, with families, schools, businesses, friends and loved ones, and in the blink of an eye it was literally wiped off the map. I couldn’t imagine seeing my home town in ruins, the parks and schools I grew up in, the homes of neighbors and friends, gone, all of it, as it if had never existed.
But even more amazing was the sheer courage and humanity found at every corner of Joplin. For three days we worked alongside folks who had lost everything they owned, sifting through the ruins of their personal belongings, family pictures, and former lives. But there they were, putting the pieces back together one day at a time, finding hope in the outcry of support from volunteers, determined to find their way back home.
In 100 degree weather, teams worked from sun up to sun down to remove debris, repairing roofs and gutting homes, and helping erect new ones as we made every effort to provide what assistance we could to help get these survivors back on their feet.
One particular project we worked on was the home of the Powell family. A single dad with four young children who lived through the storm huddled under the stairwell of their apartment complex. The father described the limbs of his young children being pulled into the wind as he grasped frantically to save them. When the storm was over and they emerged from their sanctuary what they saw before them was the wreckage of their entire apartment complex. With no renters insurance and only five thousand dollars in savings, Mr. Powell, who also suffers from a rare lung condition, spent his last dime on a house that had been damaged by the storm, hoping to rebuild the home for him and his children.
Selected by Operation Blessing, the Powell family was slated to receive an extreme home makeover and I am proud to say that we were a part of helping to do just that. On the last day of the trip we saw the tears of joy streaming from the cheeks of the Powell children as they walked through the door of their newly remodeled home for the very first time.
I am so proud to have been a part of this effort and want to thank all of the volunteers for donating their time and thank Operation Blessing for everything they have done and continue to do. There are moments in life where we witness the power and compassion of mankind and realize what is truly important in life.
Our heart goes out to the citizens of Joplin and RILA and our members will continue to be there to offer our assistance to Joplin and others in the country struck by disaster. Through RILA’s Workplace Safety Committee and Disaster Recovery and Preparedness Committee we will continue to provide a forum where retail members can carry on their good work and exchange information around incident preparedness, response and business continuity to help protect customers, employees, facilities and assets and minimize business interruption.