By Sarah Schafer
Harold and Harriet Fritz were two of dozens of volunteers from across the country to help with tornado relief at Immanuel Lutheran Church and Martin Luther School in Joplin, Mo., over Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s the least we could do,” said Harriet. “Here they need help in every direction there is.”
For nearly a week, the retired couple has traveled the 60 miles from their Nixa, Mo., home into Joplin to help with disaster relief efforts. They have unloaded and sorted water, food and material goods for victims of the May 22 tornado. On Sunday, Harriet rode in a Gator to areas greatly damaged and passed out cold water to people digging through the rubble where their homes once stood.
“We will come back [to Joplin] until they tell us there isn’t a need,” said Harriet.
The LCMS church and school, located just a half block from areas of major destruction, has become a disaster response hub for the community, according to Jeremy Schamber, principal of Martin Luther School. “Donations of food, water, clothes, toiletry, medical supplies, etc., are being collected at school,” wrote Schamber in an email update.
Elizabeth Christian, a first-grade teacher at Martin Luther, worked alongside volunteers at the school May 31 and said the community lost a Walmart and grocery stores in the tornado, so the items are greatly needed by residents.
Besides acting as a donation center, the school is serving as a medical clinic with a small pharmacy staffed with doctors and nurses from Farmington, Mo.
Volunteers are providing meals for emergency personnel and local families, and delivering meals to disaster-stricken areas. They have been involved in search-and-rescue and helping families salvage personal belongings. Staff and volunteers also provided pastoral care for people in devastated areas and those who come to the school.
Rev. Jon Olson of Pipestone, Minn., and Rev. Mark Mumme from Hardwick, Minn., traveled to Joplin May 23 to provide pastoral care. Working with the church and the Red Cross, the pastors delivered food and water to victims and workers. (Click here to watch a video interview with Olson and Mumme.)
LCMS World Relief and Human Care’s Rev. Glenn Merritt (Disaster Response) and Rev. Carlos Hernandez (District and Congregations) arrived in Joplin May 25 to assist with needs assessment and provide pastoral care.
Merritt called Immanuel members “living examples of mercy and compassion in the church” and he praised the church’s “complete involvement in the life and needs of their community since the moment the tornado hit until now.”
Immanuel Pastor Rev. Greg Mech and his entire staff “are giving so much right now, even though they’ve lost so much themselves,” said Merritt.
Thirty-four church and school families lost their homes or have severe tornado damage, including four of the school’s teachers, according to a June 1 report from Schamber.
“We know Martin Luther School will be used all summer long to help our families and the community,” he said. “We are in this for the long haul.”
LCMS World Relief and Human Care is supporting Immanuel with grants, recruiting volunteers, facilitating material aid and offering pastoral care, according to Merritt, who plans to return to Joplin.
Immanuel Lutheran Church regularly updates its website — www.immanueljoplin.com — with lists of needed items. Besides infant clothing, no other clothing is needed. The church is unable to pick up donations or provide housing to volunteers at this time. Check the website for upcoming information about volunteer opportunities.
To make a gift:
- Mail checks (noting “Tornado Disaster Relief” in the memo line) to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- Call toll-free 888-930-4438.
- Donate online (click here).
Sarah Schafer is a freelance writer in Fairfax, Va.
This story was produced by LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
Posted June 1, 2011