Day Two in Joplin: A City Struggling to Recover

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Jessica Ginger recounts her second day in Joplin, working with health care providers and distribution centers grappling to help families in crisis in the aftermath of a deadly May 22 tornado.

“It’s amazing how quickly the destruction has become a fact of life for survivors.”

On day two in Joplin, I visited College Heights Christian Church, which runs a large, incredibly organized distribution center. After arranging a delivery with the church director, I was given a tour, starting with the toy station. Next, we entered a gym filled with organized rows of clothing, then moved on to the food and water atrium. At the end, volunteers waited outside to help survivors load their cars. This distribution center has already seen hundreds of people, and so many more are expected that they’ve put seven tents in the parking lot. Fortunately, AmeriCares water has arrived to replenish their stock.

I also spent time at a small triage site – three tents set up in front of massive mounds of rubble and steel that was once a high school. The triage, run by our new partner clinic, Access Family Care, is promoting “Free Tetanus Shots” with a handwritten sign. Passersby stopped at the first tent for their shot and then got hamburger or hot dog served fresh off the grill by a white-haired doctor. Vaccines were in very short supply – a need we immediately addressed with a rush delivery of 1,300 units.

Nurses from Access Family Care Center preparing a tetanus vaccine in roadside triage center. “Most people here continue to exist in shock and survival mode.”

While working with a nurse on the clinic needs list, a wrecked building across the street caught my eye, and I wondered aloud what business was once there. The nurse responded, “Insurance -- that was my husband’s office.” It’s amazing how quickly the destruction has become a fact of life for survivors, who understand that they can’t change the aftermath of the tornado’s wrath.

Another common observation here in Joplin: A family of four pulled up next to me in a black SUV with all the windows blown out and glass still clinging to the frame. They were laughing, making the best of things. Afterwards, a middle-aged man driving a sedan pulled into the parking space in front of me, fixing his hair when he got out because he, too, had no car windows.

I ended my day with dinner at a restaurant a short way from the destruction’s end line. The staff was working hard to get their customers quickly fed before the 9pm curfew. The waitress asked me if I was here to help. I smiled and said yes. She thanked me. When she returned, she told me how much it meant to have people like me here, but then she stopped talking to keep from crying. I understood and was somewhat relieved she didn’t continue because my eyes were already wet with tears.