By Lauren Fitch Kokomo Tribune
---- — Tipton High School student Ashley Creek knew she needed to help her relatives whose homes were damaged by Sunday’s tornado. She wasn’t expecting her peers to help too.
Twenty-one high school and college students spent all day Tuesday helping clear debris from the homes of Creek’s mother, Kristi Noland; her uncle, Sean Noland; and her grandparents, Bill and Carol Noland, who all live on the east side of Kokomo.
“We wanted to come up and help them as much as we could,” said Creek, a senior. “I’m very blessed to see everybody out there. I didn’t expect to have so many people on such short notice.”
Creek’s friend, junior Amber Merida, put up a Facebook post on Sunday asking if anyone was interested in helping the Noland family. The next step was to get out of class on Tuesday.
“We had a meeting with (THS Principal Joe Rushton) and told him we had a lot of volunteers behind us,” Merida said.
As many as 30 THS students have left class to help clean up the storm damage this week, Rushton said. He has let parents and students decide how much school they can afford to miss. The absences are excused.
“It’s an awesome thing to see,” Rushton said. “We always talk to kids about trying to do community service, to give back and to be compassionate. This is just as important of a learning experience as what we’re doing (in class). … It’s good for them to step out and have this experience.”
The experience has been an emotional one for Creek and her family.
“It was devastating,” Creek said. “As soon as I saw my uncle’s, I thought I’d be able to be strong. But I wasn’t.”
Creek and her mother, Kristi, teared up as they talked about the damage and the high school students who had volunteered to help them recover.
“I go outside and it’s just overwhelming,” said Kristi, who had part of her pole barn destroyed by the storm. “I’m amazed at all these high school students.”
That altruistic attitude has spread across Howard County. Beth Rattray, communications director for United Way of Howard County, noted an influx of people wanting to assist the storm victims.
“We can’t be more thankful and grateful to live in a community like this,” she said. “From the moment the tornado hit, we’ve been inundated with calls from volunteers.”
The biggest needs right now are for people to man mobile units, which deliver meals twice a day to the affected areas, and bulk distribution, which provides cleaning supplies and other materials to people whose houses were damaged by the storm.
It is important for those interested in volunteering to wait for an assignment, Rattray said, in order to maintain their safety, as well as make their efforts most worthwhile. It may take one or two days to let volunteers know where they will be needed.
“It’s really frustrating for volunteers because they’ve seen all the damages,” she added. “They want to help at this point. But we have to let the professionals do their job. It’s important we send our volunteers into a safe and sterile environment.”
To sign up for volunteer efforts, call 211 or 765-868-4133 or visit the American Red Cross website, redcross.org. On the Red Cross website, there is a “Ways to Help” tab that leads to “Ways to volunteer” and “volunteer opportunities” links. People should choose the Indianapolis Region and then select the American Red Cross Chapter of North Central Indiana to register to volunteer locally.
The 80-hour volunteer training course can be waived, and volunteers should specify their skill sets.
Donations also are being accepted at a warehouse located at 500 E. Wheeler St. in Kokomo. Canned food, manual can openers, plastic containers, Ziploc bags, shampoo and conditioner, feminine hygiene products, diapers, wipes and baby formula, bottled water and cleaning supplies are needed for people whose homes were damaged by the tornado. Used clothing is not needed, Rattray said.
Restaurants interested in donating meals for the mobile units can call the Red Cross office in Kokomo at 765-459-4162. Donations to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief also are being accepted. Donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
The Howard County Records Office, located at 230 N. Main St. in Kokomo, is accepting found keepsakes. Any valuable papers or property located among the debris can be dropped off or retrieved.
How to help 2-1-1 United Way of Howard County Contact: 2-1-1 or (765) 868-4133 American Red Cross Contact: (765) 459-4162 Drop off donations for storm victims at 500 E. Wheeler, Kokomo, IN. Items needed include canned goods, manual can openers, plastic containers, Ziploc bags, shampoo and conditioner, feminine hygiene products, diapers, wipes and baby formula, bottled water and cleaning supplies.