Last week, Daniel Beaudoin, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stony Ridge, organized volunteers to help clean up the wreckage in the wake of the tornado that hit the Millbury area last weekend. He is coordinating efforts to salvage victims’ possessions scattered by the twister.
“Originally, we had four work teams going out to four different sites,” said Beaudoin. “We have four families from our church who have been directly affected by the tornado.”
One family lives in Moline, where their property suffered minor damage, he said, with uprooted trees and broken tree limbs. The other three families, he said, who lived near Lake High School, lost everything.
“Two of the families lived in two farmhouses between the Lake Township police station and high school. Their homes were destroyed. Further west, on the other side of the railroad tracks, between Moline and Lake High School, is a young family with three children.”
Beaudoin and his flock went out Monday to help salvage survivors’ personal effects among the damage, he said.
“A person’s entire life is spread across farm fields, mixed in with all sorts of debris, building materials. You have everything from a checkbook to a two-by-four, to shingles, to photos. It’s amazing.”
The salvaging process is being done in two phases, he said.
“We’re continuing to salvage at the Welling farm, near Lake High School,” he said “We’re also doing more intricate cleanup. Church members are going through possessions brought to the church and cleaning mud off photos, trying to dry out books, and papers,” he said.
The Welling family lived in the two farmhouses that were destroyed by the tornado, he said. Four elderly family members are in the hospital recovering from their injuries caused by the first tornado that hit Saturday night, said Beaudoin, who has visited them in the hospital daily.
“They’re going to be okay,” he said. “I got the call at Midnight Sunday, went there at 12:30 a.m. and was with them through the night.”
Some of the church’s volunteers continue to salvage belongings, while others wash pots, pans, and clothes at the church.
“We also have a group with chainsaws working on downed trees,” he said.
Survivors have asked volunteers sifting through the destruction to keep an eye out for specific items or mementos they lost in the storm.
“We’re getting a lot of that, mostly about photos,” he said.
Irwin Welling, whose plane was shot down over Germany in World War II, and was a prisoner of war, lost war memorabilia, including medals, a German helmet, and a fork with a Nazi emblem on it that was given to him in prison camp, said Beaudoin.
“He wanted to make sure we found those, and we did,” Beaudoin said of Welling, who was injured by the tornado and is recovering in the hospital.
“He is a survivor, a gentleman and a wonderful man,” said Beaudoin.
Beaudoin, who came from Edon, Ohio to become pastor of St. John’s five years ago, said he’s never seen such destruction.
“Not to this extent. As a pastor, I’ve dealt with car accidents, murders, and suicides. But nothing on this scale. This isn’t just one family that is affected, but hundreds,” he said.
Beaudoin said he’s told other pastors to watch for a “shift” in survivors’ emotions as they deal with the trauma.
“I’ve seen a shift today,” he said last Tuesday. “And the shift is from `hand work’ – going out and picking up stuff – to `heart work.’ After three or four days, the adrenaline is spent, and the reality sinks in. People start to ask, `What just happened here.’”
People who want to help can “get their gloves and boots on” and join in the cleanup efforts, he said. They can also lend a hand by offering emotional support to those who were affected by the destruction.
“Be attuned to the heart stuff. Sit with your neighbor, talk and listen. I think so often when tragedies come we want to be isolated. That’s not the thing to do,” he said. “People always say to me, `Pastor, I don’t know what to say.’ And I say, `When you go to a funeral, people don’t remember much what you say, they just remember you were there. If there’s a long, awkward silence, that’s okay, too. It’s your presence that makes a difference.”
Cash donations are being accepted at the church, which will be exchanged for gift cards from stores like Meijer for groceries and other items. Gift cards will also be accepted.
“We’re not just here to help our church members. We’re here for our community. Things that are given here are shared with the community,” he said.
Donations can be sent to St. John’s Lutheran Church, P.O. Box 279, Stony Ridge, OH 43463, attn: tornado victims.
“There are other places to send donations, too, like The American Red Cross, which does an awesome job helping people,” he said.