I visited my brother in Joplin this week. I stopped by as I drove through on the way to a week of spiritual renewal in New Mexico. We sat in the Starbucks off I-44 on Rangeline and sipped iced coffee. Interesting developments in the tornado-ravaged town:
First, the task of debris removal is way ahead of schedule. The non-stop professional removal process segregates types of debris – electronics, metal, hazardous, trees – and removes it to particular dumps and landfills. A moratorium was placed on all new building in the destruction zone to keep people out of the way. That has now been lifted. All removal must be done by mid-August to continue to receive government funding for the project – 90% of the total. The city government informed residents that if it weren’t for Federal assistance the city of Joplin would have been bankrupted.
Side bar: The last residents of the Red Cross shelters left after several weeks of the tornado and many persons without permanent shelter were staying with relatives and friends. If people had homes with insurance then that covered the cost of getting them back into housing. If they were apartment dwellers and had no relatives and friends who could take them in, they were less fortunate. A number of those turned to …
Side bar: Shortly after the disaster a local citizen named Clyde put his large tracts of land to use for shelter. His properties adjoin Shoal Creek and so he created space for a temporary tent city. The locals call it Clyde Park (!). Anyone who so desired could set up their tent and camp until they found ways to secure other shelter. He brought in water, electricity and porta- potties.
Side bar: FEMAville is a trailer city and reaches for blocks and blocks. The limit for time spent in a FEMA trailer is 18 months. They were a God send for many people and they were delivered and set up in a timely and helpful way.
Side bar: The volunteer situation is still very iffy. My brother’s Methodist church was ready to house 40 volunteers from other Methodist churches out of the area but had to cancel the whole thing at the last moment because unforeseen obstacles prevented their coming. That is happening with some frequency, those kinds of interruptions. Still, the most common message from those on the ground (including our Disciples pastors in Joplin) is that there will be plenty of time to send teams to help in the future, but now probably isn’t the best.
Side bar: Who needs the help? If you had insurance that covered your affected home or affected business then you just paid to have professionals take care of the mess – removal or repair. Volunteers have mostly been working with those without insurance who had no way to move forward alone. That tends to be the demographic most served.
Side bar: Everything affects everything else. Employment has been interrupted because businesses and employers were so direly affected. Job loss then becomes another challenge for income which affects obtaining housing and so on and so on. The dominoes fall.
Last Side bar: My once Republican, libertarian-leaning brother told a story about a group of Chiropractors from another state who made a journey to Joplin to bring used equipment so their Joplin colleagues might use to furnish their new offices. About half was usable and the other had to be discarded because no one would put that beat up equipment into new office space. The Joplin crowd expressed their sincere thanks and appreciation for their out-of-state compassionate friends who had traveled so far to help. As the three Joplin men helped unload the truck talk from the out-of-staters turned derogatory toward FEMA, the Federal Government and other governmental agencies. The three Joplin guys froze in their tracks, looked at each other and simply said: “FEMA and the Federal, State, and local governments have been stellar – we couldn’t have made it without them and they were great.” That was not received well by those predisposed toward labeling anything beyond volunteer, private sector help as invalid.
The truth of the matter in Joplin is that a combination of resources – Federal, State, Municipal, networks of first responders and medical personal, utilities companies, insurance companies, private organizations and volunteers all combined efforts to make a great success story.
The time for either-or language is officially over. It’s a case of both-and. Always has been, really. Talk to my brother. He appreciates them all. If he could he would give a big hug to his insurance company, then to Federal Emergency Management, and then to the bunch of church guys that dropped by to help him sort through debris. It’s everybody, every level. It’s not ideological. It’s pragmatic.
Somebody please send a copy of that memo to our elected officials in the capital. They obviously haven’t gotten it. It’s going to take all of us – each layer of our society – reaching out when most appropriate to address whatever need presents itself with whatever resources are most appropriate to do the job.
P.S. My brother’s new office will be opening in a couple of weeks. Champagne all around.