Chris Skiff of Cayucos received an email earlier this month showing the devastation of the recent tornado in Missouri and the need for volunteers there.
Skiff, who owns The Manse on Marsh assisted living home in San Luis Obispo, said he was so astonished by the destruction in the city of Joplin that it brought tears to his eyes.
He felt compelled to lend a hand. And after playing video for his wife and children so they could see the effects of the May 22 disaster that destroyed a third of the city and killed 154 people, his daughter, Katie, decided to join him.
Katie, 16, who had just wrapped up her school year at Mission Prep in San Luis Obispo, hastily made plans for the trip with her dad. They left June 8 and returned June 14.
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“It was staggering to see how (the tornado) had totally demolished neighborhoods,” Chris Skiff said. “We also could see what an incredible difference volunteers were making.”
Skiff received the email as part of a group list from the Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization that focuses on humanitarian projects.
While in Joplin, the Skiffs spent long hours cleaning up debris, scanning for personal items among the rubble and talking with the tornado’s victims.
“We were reminded that it was about the homeowner and not the home,” Skiff said. “So whenever we got the chance, we spoke to the people who were affected and listened to their stories.”
The Skiffs said people told them of their whereabouts when winds of more than 200 mph whipped through parts of Joplin, which has a population of about 50,000.
Their cleanup efforts included helping a retired schoolteacher who lost her home and a man who survived the fierce gusts while inside St. John’s Hospital as his home a few blocks away was destroyed.
Besides cleanup, one of the goals of the volunteer team was to help Joplin residents find family keepsakes, such as a picture of a Little Leaguer on a baseball card that was dear to a homeowner, and an Eagle Scout memento. The debris they piled up often stood several feet high. Seeing their properties cleaned up had a positive psychological effect on homeowners, the Skiffs said.
“People there were so thankful that so many volunteers came to help,” Katie said. “It was really satisfying to do this.”