by Liana Kopp Earlier this month I had the privilege of responding to the tornado that swept through Baxter Springs, Kansas. Our original purpose in Baxter Springs was to assist the Red Cross in the operation of the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC). In practice, this meant greeting affected homeowners as they entered the MARC and leading them from organization to organization to make sure they received the help that they needed. Many of these homeowners opened up and told me their stories, allowing a glimpse at the trauma they had so recently experienced. During the four days I spent in the MARC, I began to recognize homeowners and they began to recognize me and my fellow ACSTL members as volunteers who genuinely wanted to help them find the services they needed.
My team then moved to the Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) where we took over for the local women who were running it so that they could go back to their jobs and lives. While there, we talked with homeowners to find out what kind of volunteer work they needed done and then we sent our volunteers to those sites. As with the MARC, homeowners would come into the VRC without knowing what the process was or what to expect from us. However, on several occasions, we watched as homeowners would walk through the door tense and confused until they saw those of us they had worked with in the MARC. You could see through their body language and facial expressions that as soon as they saw ERT members they recognized that they felt more comfortable asking for help.
One woman who stood out the most for us was a woman we met at the MARC. She and her husband and their five young children tried to run for the basement when the tornado hit but the stair collapsed and they were unable to make it. Instead they had to cling to one another in the interior of the house to prevent the children from being sucked away. Little did they know that the stair collapse was a blessing because the basement flooded and they all would have drowned. We saw her in the MARC several times and were there to listen to her story and do what we could to match her with the help she needed. The day after we took over the VRC the same woman walked in looking around a bit bewildered. But as soon as she saw my teammate Zoe and I, she relaxed and came right to us to request the tools she needed and told us how the cleanup process was going. It was a gift to us to be let into her life like that and I think we provided a service just by being familiar faces to make her recovery a tiny bit less overwhelming.
By serving in the MARC and the VRC we were able to help homeowners through the initial stages of response and recovery. We made the process more understandable and they became more comfortable talking to us because of that. It is an experience I will never forget in a town I grew to love in the one short week we were there.