Responding to Disaster


When Missy Lindner was asked to help with the Volunteer Reception Center following the tornado that struck Oak Grove on March 6, she said sure. She hadn’t been told that “help” meant she would be responsible for running it. But before she knew it, she was responsible for matching hundreds of volunteers with people in need. 
Lindner was just in the process of transitioning into the part-time position of Missouri Conference Disaster Response Coordinator. She had been on a trip to assess the damage from a tornado that hit Perryville on February 28, and found the response to be well-organized and established when she got there. She was on a conference call about Perryville when word came in about the tornado in Oak Grove, right in her backyard. 
It was a rapid start to a new position, but Lindner came into it prepared. As a member of Woods Chapel UMC in Lee’s Summit, she spent the month of March in Louisiana for five years in a row, working on Hurricane Katrina recovery.
“I used a church van to deliver tools to teams 12 hours a day,” she said. 

Although Lindner’s job is part-time, she not only works around the clock for days on end in times of disaster, she also brings to the table her husband Ivan, another person with deep experience in disaster response. Ivan retired from his job in 2010 and was considering what his next big thing would be when the tornado struck Joplin. The couple ended up spending about two years in Joplin, volunteering full-time in disaster response recovery efforts.
Although the couple had never been solely responsible for a running a Volunteer Reception Center before, they possess a wealth of disaster response experience and handled the task well. The tornado hit Oak Grove on Monday evening, March 6. On Wednesday the Volunteer Reception Center opened at noon and processed through 220 volunteers. The next day there were about 500 volunteers. On Friday there were another 300 – 400 volunteers. Some came as groups. Others just showed up individually. On Saturday Helping Hands from the Church of Latter Day Saints showed up with a lot of chainsaws and equipment. The initial challenge was coming up with things for them all to do.
“Being near a metropolitan area the local news coverage was extensive. I feel the situation was a little over-hyped by the local news,” Ivan said. “We had a lot of volunteers coming in from the metro area and surrounding region. The storm was severe but not as bad as people expected based on what they had heard. We’ve had so many people here volunteering that a lot of work was completed quickly. The servant hearts of people never ceases to amaze me. We had many people showing up everyday to help, many taking off work or coming in after they got off work.”
Less than a week after the tornado, there were only 40 homes in Oak Grove, and about another 40 in the county, that did not yet have the power turned back on. 
“There were nearly 500 homes affected, and some people heard that as destroyed, but many of those 500 homes only had minor damage,” Ivan said. “The last I heard there were approximately 170 homes classified in the minor, major and destroyed categories.”
There was an over abundance of donations of food, water and clothing coming in.
“The best way to help upfront is by donating money,” Ivan said. “This allows local agencies to buy what is needed, which varies for different communities.” 

They had over a hundred intakes (requests for help) at the Volunteer Reception Center, and were calling everyone on the list. The vast majority of people impacted by the storm were insured. It will be determined later how much reconstruction help will be needed for those who are uninsured or under insured. That is not fully determined until months after the damages.
“It’s a close-knit town. People take care of each other,” Ivan said. “In these rural communities, people have trucks, tractors and other equipment that helps them recover.” 
Once the VRC closed to walk-ins, they started taking intakes via the United Way’s 211 disaster recovery hotline. 
Scott Burdin, a member of the Missouri Conference staff, went to the area March 16 – 17 with the Conference skid loader. He helped clear debris around a home that had been knocked off its foundation. He was then sent out to a property near Bates City. 
“I was skeptical as to whether there would be really be any storm damage at this site because as I was driving out there everything was fine, and it was miles from the closest damage,” Burdin said. “Then I came over the top of the hill, and you could see right where a tornado had touched down with lots of big trees down and buildings destroyed.”
Spring storms continue. On April 4, a tornado hit the town of Goodman in southwest Missouri and the surrounding rural community. About 40 homes and a dozen businesses received damage, as well as the elementary school and the fire station. The local food bank was destroyed, so food donations were rerouted to Neosho. Immediately after the tornado Lindner was in contact with Jill Bryant of Catholic Charities, who was coordinating Early Response Teams. The Lindner’s referred early response teams from Missouri Conference churches to Bryant, and will soon be doing an onsite assessment to determine the need for future volunteer teams in the community’s long-term recovery effort. 

“It’s a close-knit town. People take care of each other,” Ivan said. “In these rural communities, people have trucks, tractors and other equipment that helps them recover.”  

Before the storms hit, the Lindner’s had begun work on some long-term recovery efforts. At the end of January, they did a scouting trip to the St. Louis area, where they were working on plans for volunteer teams to assist with flood recovery work that remained from flooding that occurred at the end of 2015. The area had thousands of intake forms, or request for help, with perhaps several hundred homes needing complete rebuilds. There is an immediate need for rebuild teams in the St. Louis area. The organization handling the rebuild efforts is very well organized and housing is available at the Eureka UMC. To volunteer or for more information, contact Denise Kasten at 314-267-0813 or