Commemorating the First Anniversary of the Oak Grove Tornado
Today marks the one-year anniversary that an EF3 tornado ripped through Oak Grove, Grain Valley, and parts of unincorporated Jackson and Lafayette Counties. The tornado touched down a little after 8:00 p.m., and reached top wind speeds of 152 miles per hour, and, at its largest point, was 400 yards wide. Approximately 483 homes and 12 businesses were destroyed or sustained damage.
In the 365 days since then, what has occurred has been nothing short of a miracle. I was able to be in Oak Grove about 12 hours after the tornado hit, and it was unlike anything I'd ever seen. First responders, disaster relief organizations, churches, and caring neighbors were on the scene working to aid those affected. CSL does not typically engage in disaster relief, especially on such a large scale, so this was new territory for us. While there, we learned that the home of our Oak Grove Site Manager, Gina Parr, and her husband, Rick, had been completely destroyed. Of all the disaster relief providers working in Oak Grove, CSL was the only organization with a permanent office in town (thankfully, it wasn't affected by the tornado). It was quickly decided that CSL would be the collector of donated items. I don't think I'll ever forget the response that happened after that. People like you, from all across our area and all across the country flooded us with gifts to help families in need. In the coming weeks, we filled six shipping containers (generously provided by SiteBox Storage) with water, clothing, food, personal hygiene items, and much more. After the tornado, access to the south part of Oak Grove, for safety reasons, was restricted, so all donations went through our Noland Road (Independence), Blue Springs, and Grain Valley offices. All of our staff throughout our network worked so hard to process all the inventory that was accumulating, in addition to their regular workload. Our Site Manager, Gina Parr, whose house, as mentioned above, was destroyed completely, returned to work later in the week, and her motto of "I am blessed," even in the face of catastrophe, was a rallying point for all. The weekend after the tornado, there was a multi-agency resource center set up at First Baptist Church, which brought together dozens of supporting agencies to meet with neighbors and help them start to rebuild.
I attended the resource center event, and was overwhelmed at what I saw. Families were clearly, several days later, still stunned at what had happened to their lives and possessions. Many were facing the prospect of completely rebuilding their homes and replacing every single personal possession. Thankfully, caring volunteers were there to assist them and guide them through the event. The emotional support of the event, in my opinion, was just as impactful. I talked to several people that did not know how to move forward. There were renters that did not have renter's insurance because an event like this was unpredictable. There were homeowners that were living in a trailer on their property. There were folks that had their entire families living in hotel rooms in other parts of Eastern Jackson County. While the day took an emotional toll, it was necessary so we could empathize with those suffering. In the year since, we have helped countless victims throughout Oak Grove, Grain Valley, and Jackson and Lafayette Counties. You responded with more than $60,000 in monetary contributions, and our best estimate is that you provided more than $500,000 in donated goods. Our financial assistance has been "last dollars in," meaning we have tapped dedicated disaster dollars from Salvation Army, American Red Cross, and Catholic Charities first, as ours are the most flexible. We have assisted with insurance deductibles, home repairs, roofing, utility bills, rent payments, basic need items, furniture, Christmas items, and much more. More than $200,000 in cash assistance has been provided from the relief agencies directly to Oak Grove residents. CSL received two grants, one from Community of Christ, and one from Royals Charities, that covered operating expenses associated with the relief. Their grants allowed all $60,000 donated to CSL, every penny, to be granted directly to tornado victims.
There remains much work to be done, and the rebuilding process will continue, and CSL will still be there to help. We can only do this because of your support. The list of people to thank is too lengthy to mention, but we would be nowhere without Gina Parr. As I mentioned earlier, in the face of total loss, she still managed to say, "I am blessed" following the tornado. Her optimism was the bright light that everyone needed. She coordinates a phenomenal staff of volunteers that have worked so hard, and we are especially grateful to Don Fore, a CSL board member, for his ceaseless work, and keeping the board informed of the progress. Additionally, our former Oak Grove Site Manager, Sharon Petkoff, assisted tremendously, and many volunteers from other CSL offices came and worked at Oak Grove so the office could stay open five days a week following the tornado. We will also never forget your generosity. The people from near and far that gave to strangers, whom they will likely never meet, was awe-inspiring. It truly is an honor to work among our neighbors in our communities. Thank you for being so supportive of our work over the last year in Oak Grove and other communities. May we never forget our neighbors' struggles and hardship, but may we also never forget that in the face of adversity, a community can come together and overcome anything.