Local tornado-relief effort shows strong spirit of giving

Published: Friday, Nov. 29, 2013 5:51 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 11:04 p.m. CDT

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One of the things I am most grateful for are those times when I get a chance to help others. It just feels good. I feel like my life has purpose and that my being matters. I see it in my kids eyes, too, and feel it in their spirits when we stumble on such an opportunity, as we did last week when we saw the call on the Batavia Park District’s Facebook page for donations to help those affected by the recent tornadoes devastating the Washington, Ill., area.

We immediately took inventory of our winter gear and the kids came up with two huge garbage bags of good stuff.(They just keep on growing!)

We then made a few phone calls to see what donations could be procured for the furry friends who also lost their homes last week, and an hour later Holly and I pulled up to the back door of the Batavia Petland to accept whatever the generous folks there had managed to pull together. We figured on a few bags of vittles, but whoa, they literally filled our Subaru with pet food, collars, leashes, treats and toys. My daughter even had dog food on her lap and under her feet!

We giggled and hummed the tune to “Mission Impossible” (my family’s go-to mojo maker) and just made it to the park district office in the nick of time Nov. 21 – the last day they could accept donations before they were to be delivered to Washington.

With enthusiastic help from Batavia Park District employee Jordan, we unloaded our haul into the lobby.

Wow, that felt good. What fun that was!

This sentiment was echoed my many who commented on the park district’s Facebook page last week, so glad were they for the opportunity to help. 

That’s a lot of contagious good vibes floating around. And to think, it all began with one person’s simple question.

On Nov. 18, after participating in a fitness class at the park district, Michele Morris, who has family with connections to a trucking company said to her fitness instructor, Kathy Freedlund, “I want to help. I don’t know how to do it. Can you help me?”

Morris said that Freedlund arranged for the park district to be a collection site for donations and simply posted the details on Facebook. The response was stunning.

“It just bloomed. Never did we expect that by Tuesday afternoon the lobby (at the BPD Civic Center) would be full,” said Morris.

By Friday, two park district  trailer loads had been delivered to her house.

“My husband couldn’t park in the garage for three days,” she said.

The donations didn’t just come from Batavia. Morris said that they poured in from several surrounding towns, including Geneva, Elgin, Wheaton and Streamwood.

“The Streamwood Park District actually sent two carloads of stuff,” she said.

Morris and her helpers sorted and packed the items before loading them onto bigger trucks, which made the trek to Washington last Saturday. In all, Morris says that she and her family drove two moving trucks and two SUV’s filled with 125 cases of water, 30 boxes of blankets, 50 boxes of coats, lots of toiletries and loads of pet food to the affected area.

“It’s overwhelming to me that this community has so much compassion for people they don’t even know,” she said.

Clearly, so does Morris.

Lao-Tzu, a 6th century BC Chinese philosopher and author traditionally considered the founder of philosophical Taoism, encourages us to give without expectation of reward.

It seems Morris embodies that spirit, wishing not to gain attention for her efforts.

“We don’t do it for that. We do it because that’s our family down there. We wanted to help them,” she said.

She and her husband have several family members living in the Washington, Ill., area, and, miraculously, they suffered only one broken window. But the devastation is everywhere around them.

“It looks like bombs blew it all away,” Morris said, of the scene she and her family found when they rolled in to what’s left of Washington.

She said that the pictures on the Internet don’t even begin to capture the enormity of the damage the people there are suffering.

“Cars are mangled. Fields are littered with debris. Entire houses are just gone. It’s like Plainfield all over again,” she said, recalling the violent tornado that decimated that Chicago suburb in 1990 and killed 29 people.

Seven people died from the tornadoes that recently hit Illinois.

Tornadoes are tough like that. Mother Nature does her thing, and when we’re “on,” human nature responds. People like Morris inspire others to help. I love it when that happens. Go team!

Morris isn’t alone in her efforts. For example, she said that the kind folks at Prairie Quilts in Batavia are holding a pillow and pillow-case drive until Dec. 10.

They’ll also accept donations of finished quilts and blankets to give to folks affected by the tornadoes.
As for Morris, she’s just getting started.

In fact, Tuesday afternoon she made a second trip to Washington, when she delivered 25 pumpkin pies donated by Harner’s Bakery (for a Thanksgiving dinner at one of the churches); toothbrushes from Windmill Dental; shampoo donated by Craig Foltos of Foltos Tonsorial Parlor; and even several boxes of hangers from Deluxe Cleaners.

I asked what she thinks the people of Washington most need, right now.

“They need kids’ backpacks and school supplies, and eventually (as they rebuild) they’ll need furniture and home goods. But right now, Christmas trees. They need Christmas trees,” she decided.

As a mom and a grandma, it’s no wonder that Morris immediately considered how tornado-affected children and families are feeling about being displaced this holiday season. I get it. Reminds me of my own kids’ anxiety at holiday time, whenever we’d just moved to a new home.

“Will Santa find us?” they always asked. He always did. How very fortunate we were.

Morris wants to let the children in Washington know that Santa will find them, too.

If you’d like to help make the holidays a bit brighter for them, please share this story and/or make a check out to ‘Washington, Illinois Disaster Relief Fund’ and take or mail it to any Harris Bank branch.

Santa is “the spirit of loving and giving in our hearts,” according to my own mom, a giver, not unlike Morris.

I agree. Let’s help her.

• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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