When my phone rang at 8:20 a.m., and I saw it was the American Red Cross, I answered the phone with the intention of giving my dispatcher a bit of grief for calling me 40 minutes before my shift, but knowing that I would respond quickly, anyway.
Much to my surprise, it wasn't the dispatcher who was calling, but our Director of Emergency Services...I was even more surprised when he began by asking, "Hey - want to go to Harveyville, KS for the weekend?"
A house in Harveyville...after the tornado
Harveyville, KS was hit by an EF-2 tornado on the evening of February 28th, destroying 40% of the town. It's about an hour and 45 minutes away from Kansas City, so very quickly, I packed up a few things and headed to our headquarters. There, I hopped in the ERV and began the snowy drive to Harveyville.
Me and my partner, Lu, getting ready to leave KC
After arriving in Harveyville, we checked in, got our security badges, and went to work. We had arrived in time to serve lunch, so we loaded up sandwiches, snacks and drinks, and began driving around the small town.
My security badge...they could scan this to log my hours on the jobsite.
Through the weekend, we served breakfast, lunch and dinner to not only the 240 residents of Harveyville, but the hundreds of law enforcement officers, utility workers, demolition crews, tree trimmers, bulldozer operators, and spontaneous volunteers who were on-scene.
There were two ERV's in town - this is the Topeka ERV
In a small town, you can quickly get to know the people who you're serving...everyone has a story - whether it's the story of the residents who survived the storm, or the story of the volunteer who came all the way in from New York to help with clean-up.
There was Frankie, a 21-year old resident of Harveyville, who took a wild ride in his trailer during the storm, along with his fiance and her two young children. They all miraculously survived, despite their trailer being smashed to smithereens around them - although Frankie ended up with a huge gash in his head from embedded glass. Every day, we'd check on Frankie's condition, as he was still a bit dazed, days after his ordeal.
A typical scene in the streets of town...
There was 71-year old Otis, who goes by "Dawg" to his friends...a weather-beaten farmer who lives in his overalls and tootles around his collected treasures in his yard. Dawg, or "Grandpa Dawg", as I called him, broke down crying one day at our ERV window, as he stated that he was overwhelmed with all of the outpouring of support coming his way. We'd check on Grandpa Dawg three times a day, making sure he was taking care of himself as he slowly recovered from the psychological damage from the storm.
Grandpa Dawg lived down a long, dead-end road that was named 'Frog Hollow'. As I was the driver, I was also the navigator - getting to choose which of the 8 streets in town I'd drive down next...I loved nothing more than announcing to my crew in the back of the ERV that we would now be "goin' down Frog Hollow to visit Grandpa Dawg." How fun is THAT?! And how many times in your lifetime do you get to make that announcement? I'm bettin....never.
We never learned the names of some of our clients - but we gave them nicknames...there was "Coffee Guy", who would stop us in the streets several times a day to have us fill up his thermos. He thought our coffee was the best he'd ever tasted - all I know, it was hot on a chilly, windy day.
There was the "Roofing Crew" - a team of 10 big, strapping men who had come in to volunteer and roof a friend's house. These guys were tough, not minding the elements of a cold, windy day in the Kansas plains...nothing was going to stop them from getting that roof DONE. I would chuckle, though, when all it took was an announcement on my intercom that I had hot, delicious chicken breast sandwiches - and those guys would scamper like lemmings down the ladder as they swarmed our truck for some refreshments.
There were "The Kids" - a group of 16 college kids from a nearby town, who were dressed in their proud purple college hoodies, doing anything and everything that the town officials asked them to do...we kept them well-supplied with chips and pop, as their boundless energy kept them going all day long.
The only church in town - Harveyville Methodist Church - destroyed
"New York" was a guy who had come all the way from...you guessed it - New York to help assist in clean-up. He was somewhat in a state of shock, though, from what he was seeing. I asked him one day, "Are you doing okay, New York?" He said, "I've just never seen a tornado before. Being from the midwest, you're probably used to them." I told him that no, one never gets used to them...or to the damage they can do. I've just learned to not focus on the destruction, but to focus on the people...where the hearts and souls are.
None of the people we served ever knew our names...and that's okay. They just called us the "crazy funny Red Cross ladies from Kansas City" - and that was just fine with us. That's what it was all about. The crazy Kansas City ladies giving them smiles, hugs, words of encouragement, words of support, along with hot food, snacks and drinks.
We not only fed their tummies...we fed their spirits.
I'd like to think so, at least.