Individuals can help with cleanup this weekend

05/19/2007 1:01 AM

01/24/2008 5:15 PM

Norman Shank has helped others in need. Now he is on the receiving end. He's amazed when people he doesn't even know show up at what's left of his 37-year-old house to help reclaim his life. Volunteers with Billy Graham prayed with him. Members of the Central Kansas Chapter of the American Disc Jockey Association helped clean up debris.

"I've always been active in my own church," said Shank, a Methodist. "But we've never had this kind of disaster before. It makes you appreciate the help, makes you prioritize what's important, and makes you want to help people when you get back on your feet."

More than 1,200 volunteers have worked 8,600 hours in and around Greensburg since the May 4 tornado, according to the AmeriCorps Volunteer Reception Center, which is coordinating volunteer efforts.

Another 500 volunteers are expected this weekend, the first weekend that individuals have been encouraged to help. Last weekend, only heavy equipment and operators were wanted.

People who want to help are asked to call first to make sure they are needed. Individual volunteers should call 888-413-4327. Volunteers in groups should call 314-313-4779. Once they get to Greensburg, they should check in at the AmeriCorps center, in the big tent in Davis Park on the east edge of town off U.S. 54.

Volunteers working around the rubble should wear dust masks. The Kiowa County Health Department issued a hazardous alert Friday, saying the dust may contain asbestos.

"People need to wear boots, long pants, gloves," said Hillary Holstein, AmeriCorps coordinator. "There is concern about the air quality."

Volunteers will need to be flexible, Holstein said. Some may be directed from Greensburg and into neighboring county farm fields to help clear debris.

"With so much heavy machinery in the town, there is a safety concern in having too many volunteers on those grounds," she said.

Wheat harvest looms. Alfalfa needs to be cut. Farmers haven't gone into fields because of debris and heavy rain.

Volunteers are encouraged to bring shovels, rakes and -- if they have them -- chain saws and fuel.

They also should expect to go home at night. Motels are booked for miles around.

Kansas' helping spirit

Walk through Greensburg streets nearly two weeks after the tornado, and debris, noise and odors surround the senses.

What's most remarkable is what survived: a girl's purple bicycle here; an heirloom rocking chair there.

Tereasa Siebert, a member of the Garden Valley Mennonite Church in Garden City, knew she had to come.

"If we were ever in need, we'd like others helping us," she said. "God told us to come."

Walking over shards of glass, nails and minute pieces of debris, she looks for what might be important to the family who once lived in a house on top of this concrete slab.

Pictures are saved.

Home-canned pickled beets are tossed, as is other food.

Her pastor, Tom Davis, warns people not to go near a curb-side refrigerator because of the smells.

The volunteers came because it's in their nature. "Help!" is a cry as old as the prairie, said Dave Webb, historian and assistant director at the Kansas Heritage Center in Dodge City.

Kansans repeatedly show that answering that call is a part of life here.

"People have been helping out since the grasshopper plagues wiped out farms in the 1870s," Webb said. "We've seen that spirit once again with Greensburg."

Value of giving time

That spirit is also evident in the Mennonite Disaster Service, which started in Hesston in 1951. Its first disaster: responding to Arkansas River flooding in downtown Wichita.

Now, the service is a nonprofit organization that responds to disasters throughout North America, including in Greensburg. It averages 50 to 75 volunteers each weekday, and more on Saturdays.

"We are out every day, as we will be every day for the next two years," said Marvin Penner, volunteer coordinator for the group. "Once we move out of the phase of demolition and removing debris, then we will be there for the rebuilding."

Some of the people they are helping are their own. The Greensburg Mennonite Church was blown away in the storm, and more than 30 of the 70 families in the congregation received substantial damage.

Giving time is as important as money, Penner said.

'The right thing to do'

One chiropractor has volunteered his services for victims and volunteers; a beautician is giving free haircuts.

On Tuesday, 16 students and two staff members from Wichita's Friends University helped some farmers outside Greensburg.

The Friends volunteers walked about 160 acres of fields, gathering shingles, boards, limbs, wallboard, wire and insulation. The debris filled a wheat truck bed, three times.

The volunteer work was "the right thing to do," said Patrick Sehl, campus ministries director. He added the help was "just the opportunity to show the love of God to people... not just preaching, but action."

Caleb Lind, a 22-year-old Friends student who worked on the volunteer crew, said: "That's the least I can do, is give some of my time to help these people."

Lind could see inside one farmer's house.

Walls were gone.

"His livelihood has just been swept up by the wind," Lind said. "I just can't imagine what he is going through right now."

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