The most striking image from our visit to Vilonia (which took a direct hit from a tornado last week) was watching a man and a woman and two kids stand where their driveway use to be and watch as the mound of rubble that used to be their house was bulldozed away. It was our job (as volunteers with the Fire Department), to see if they needed any help and let them know about the relief services available. We approached them cautiously assuming that they may be having a very personal moment of grief. To our surprise they did not seem upset. When we asked if they needed anything, they said that no, they had everything they needed. It turns out they had already moved their surviving items into a new home and they were all safe and healthy and in good spirits. Watching their old home wiped clean was just an important step before they could move on and start over in a new home.
Resilience and rebuilding were definitely themes that emerged from our short time volunteering with the Vilonia Fire Department, but not everyone was as calm and collected and ready to move on. A tornado is uniquely frightening in the way that it can change course quickly and can destroy one house and leave the next one untouched. One older gentleman we spoke to said it was the first big tornado he had experienced in his 30+ years of living in Vilonia. He had a storm shelter on the property and had been able to get his family into it safely before the tornado hit. But he didn’t have very much warning at all. They had been listening to the radio for the tornado updates and suddenly the reporter changed from saying that the tornado would be at least 5 miles outside of Vilonia to saying that it had changed course and was headed straight for them.
Another population that was having trouble picking up the pieces were young folks like us who were just renting houses. We spoke to two separate renters who were faced with uncertainty of when or if their homes would be livable again. They had to wait on the owners to get in touch with insurance and contractors to make repairs. One home had suffered both roof damage and serious flooding. The second had large tree limbs all over the property, blocking parts of the house and crushing the shed. They had already spent their rainy day fund on hotel stays in the days following the tornado as the rains continued to pelt the area. Now, with a week of sunshine ahead, they were just getting a chance to assess the damage and try to figure out their options. Being new to the area and without roots, they were not seeing the same type of neighborly care that we saw in most of the community. They were among the most grateful to see us and hear what we had to say about available services.
Vilonia still needs help and there will probably be a lot of clean up projects going on this weekend. If you would like to help out, just show up at the Fire Department (18 Bise Drive) between 9 and 5 pm or call Debbie at (501) 796-2534. They need people to help get the word out, sort donations at the old gym, and most of all help with debris removal and cutting tree branches. They will provide volunteers with maps, gloves, a badge, food, and water. If you have tree cutting equipment, you should probably bring it. They have been collecting donations, but were preparing to stop collection this weekend.
Big shout out to @hotspringseye who helped connect us with this opportunity. The twitter community is one of the best ways to get the latest information and connect. Also, thanks to the Sunshine Store who gave us some treats for the road. Sunshine was also hit, but did not sustain as much damage as Vilonia.
These 5 hours of volunteering were sponsored by Son Pham, who is graduating from medical school this month. Congratulations Dr. Pham and thank you for the support!
Please don’t forget to vote for us to win a trip to volunteer in Alaska. You can vote everyday between now and May 31st at: Send Sharon and Jay, Full Time Volunteers, To Alaska | volunteerjournals.com