License plates that I have seen driving around in my neighborhood and my park over the last two weeks include Texas, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, South Carolina, New Mexico, North Carolina, Colorado, Louisiana, and California. This isn't normal, believe me! I saw people in these cars and trucks driving around all the time in the first week, and they weren't there to gawk. (By the way, on my soapbox, I understand that people are going to have an inclination to gawk. I have no problems with anyone coming and gawking in my neighborhood...as long as you are doing it while helping in some way!) Walking to and from the park while assisting with cleanup, I was offered drinks by people in pick-up trucks with hand-drawn signs such as "Colorado Springs 'Hearts' Moore" and "South Carolina is here to help!" This is like double-layering of volunteers here--volunteers helping volunteers! Even though I declined drinks from most of these people (I occasionally took a hot dog or bag of Famous Amos cookies though), my heart is warmed with love by each encounter.
The incident of people working together that I found to be the most personally overwhelming was on the morning of Saturday, May 25th in our park. One guy had organized a community initiative on Facebook to meet at the park at 9AM and clean it as best we could. I tell you this: the day before, my friend Heidi and I worked at the park for about two hours, picking up debris that averaged in size probably 2 feet by 1 foot and included all kinds of personal items. As Heidi worded it when we were done with our afternoon, she felt as though we had "skimmed the sand on a beach." The mess that was left was overwhelming. Well, on Saturday morning we moved our stuff back home since we had just gotten back electricity late the night before and we arrived at the park about an hour after start time. I was flabbergasted at the number of people that had shown up. My sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and mom all joined our family, and we put forth a conservative estimate of 500 volunteers in and around the park. They looked like ants crawling all over the place, scraping sidewalks, chainsawing fallen trees, picking dead turtles out of the creek (okay, that was my mom and me), bulldozing debris, and mostly just bending over time after time after time to pick up the tiny bits of debris that this grinder tornado had left in its wake. These pictures were taken with my phone and don't begin to do justice to the scene of volunteerism. Apart from the giant piles of debris spaced ten feet apart all around the edge of the park, this place is cleaner than before the tornado hit!
Maybe it's not really visible here, but there are probably a hundred people in this shot working in the homes closest to the park.
Remember these pictures of the park, taken on Wednesday the 22nd?
Here's the same park, picture taken on Saturday the 25th. =)
Once everyone was done with the park, they picked their rakes, shovels, and work gloves up and stepped into the surrounding neighborhoods to assist those whose homes were demolished. 50 people would work all over one home, taking the rubble down to the curb and working until it was a clean-swept slab. I kid you not. And THEN, to top it off, out-of-state volunteers served EVERYONE a free, nice hot lunch at the park.
Let me say a little more about these out-of-state volunteers at the park. Impact areas in Moore have been zoned into different numbers, and our "zone" is at the front of our park. In this place, there were six-foot high stacks of waters, gatorades, food goodies, batteries, diapers, baby wipes, trash bags, work gloves, etc. The zone was manned and womanned from sun up to sun down with the giant grill always working, serving up hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken wings, and sandwiches to everyone who needed a bite, whether you were a volunteer, a person who lost your home, or just a person who was toughing it out at home with no water and no power. Each place had a medic, a cell phone charging station, and host of people from all over the place just there to help. They said, "Sit down! Can I get you a water? How about some hot dogs?" I swear, I cried at one point and hugged a woman who cheerfully served me food after Mowgli revolted during an afternoon's hard work. Our neighborhood's station was available all day long until just yesterday. That's a lot of hours!
To cap off Saturday, May 25th, we left the park and came home to find nearly the entirety of both of our families setting to work in our yard. All of the mess that BJ and I knew would take us days to clean was tackled; our moms and my brother-in-law picked up debris, my sister swept crud off the deck, my dad set up the power washer, BJ's dad cleaned the gutters, and we all knocked it out in three hours. Don't get me wrong; BJ and I weren't lazy asses this whole time. I actually worked so hard that I vomited, leading me to realize I probably better cool it a little; but what a feeling...all the help we got! I felt it then and I feel it everyday now---when I drive through other suburbs and see "Pray for Moore" signs, when ESPN sportscasters announce donations to Moore Disaster Relief, when friends from afar offer to help or offer a virtual hug, and when people contact me to tell me that my town and I are on their minds. From the bottom of this welling, emotional heart...thank you.