GCU Launches ‘Drive to Joplin’ for Tornado Victims
By Doug Carroll
GCU Enrollment Counselor Aaron Johnson can’t believe what has happened to his hometown of Joplin, Mo.
Huge parts of it are gone, the work of the most devastating tornado in the United States in decades.
“I’ve been pretty heavy-hearted this week,” says Johnson, who works out of the University’s Peoria offices. “I’ve been told the pictures don’t do it justice. It looks like a nuclear bomb was dropped. I can’t even wrap my head around this.
“People have lost everything, and they don’t have anything but the clothes on their back.”
The survivors are struggling. Amber Munson, a high school friend of Johnson’s, had her house collapse on her but somehow survived beneath the rubble and was rescued after sending text messages that she was alive. Another friend, Sylvia Smith, a single mother, was in her car when it was thrown the length of a block. She survived, but the apartment building in which she and her teenage son lived was destroyed.
A college classmate, Carey Prater, her husband and their two young daughters are homeless. So are Ryan Johnson (no relation) and his toddler son.
Aaron Johnson’s alma mater, Missouri Southern University, has been transformed into a massive shelter. In a city of 50,000, more than 120 are dead and many more have been reported missing. Foul weather has hampered rescue efforts since Sunday’s storm, which has been described by the Joplin newspaper as “our Hiroshima.”
One of Joplin’s two hospitals is gone, along with its public high school.
“Usually, tornadoes just move on through,” says Johnson, whose immediate family lives outside the city and was unharmed. “This one just sat there. These were 200-mph winds. The bark was taken off trees.”
Cell-phone contact has been sporadic, Johnson says, so he has remained glued to CNN reports and used Facebook to try to reach out. Although relief organizations have arrived with water, food and medical help, survivors are in desperate need of clothing, toiletries and basic supplies.
GCU is responding to those needs by conducting a relief drive at Peoria, Tempe and the main campus, starting Friday and continuing through the end of the business day Wednesday.
Then Johnson and Community Outreach Manager Jose Moreno will load the donations into a van and hit the road on Thursday morning for Joplin, where they will make deliveries to those mentioned above.
Another family, headed by retirees Chuck and Donna Harrington and well-known by GCU Enrollment Counselor Heather DiFrancesco, lost everything in the tornado and has relocated temporarily to Tulsa, Okla.
En route to Joplin, which is about 1,100 miles from Phoenix, Johnson and Moreno will stop in Tulsa to deliver items to the Harringtons.
“They have nothing,” DiFrancesco says. “I’m pretty shaken up. I feel helpless because I’m here and I can’t go there.”
Here’s how you can participate in “GCU’s Drive to Joplin”:
- Peoria: Bring donations for Families 1 and 2 to boxes in break room. Contact people: Aaron Johnson (Peoria I), Lawrence Haddart and Sue Boyle (Peoria II).
- Tempe: Bring donations for Families 3 and 4 to boxes in break room. Contact person: Dionne Ortega.
- Main campus: Bring donations of supplies to the Office of Student Life in the Student Union.
Here’s what is needed the most:
- Family 1 (Tim and Carey Prater, daughters Lexi and Reese): women’s medium shirts; women’s pants size 6-8; men’s pants 36-38 waist and 34-36 length; men’s shirts XXL; men’s shoes size 12; children’s shoes size 10.5; women’s shoes size 5; girls’ clothing sizes 4 and 14.
- Family 2 (Ryan Johnson and son Kreighton): men’s clothing size L and shoes size 10.5; boys’ clothing size 5T.
- Family 3 (Sylvia Smith and son Dalton): men’s T-shirts and polos size XL; men’s dress shirts size 17; neckties; men’s dress pants and jeans sizes 36×32 or 36×34; men’s shoes size 11 or 11.5.
- Family 4 (Chuck and Donna Harrington): women’s size 6 and medium tops; women’s size 2 (small); men’s large (34 waist) jeans; underwear and socks; juniors clothing size 3; girls’ clothing size 2T-3T; women’s shoes size 5-6; girls’ shoes size 7; men’s shoes size 13.
- Supplies: shampoo, conditioner, soap (bath and laundry), razors, shaving cream, deodorant, lotions, hairbrushes, toothpaste and toothbrushes, washcloths and towels, dog food and dog grooming items, pet supplies.
- Also welcome: notes/cards of support, cash donations, Wal-Mart and Target gift cards.