While this week suburban residents focused their efforts on fighting severe cold and helping their neighbors cope, reports continue to come in of the work local residents and governments did to help those in the Washington, Ill. area in the wake of the devastating Nov. 17 tornado.
The destruction throughout the area was massive. What follows are a few of the stories of local efforts:
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Fourth-grade students at Field Elementary School in Wheeling welcomed a family from Washington on Dec. 19 to learn about the tornado and to present a donation of $386.62.
The students were studying a literacy unit on cause and effect when the tornado struck. They wanted to learn more about the impact of the tornado and help families affected by the storm. Anne Sporrer, sister of Emily Goemans, a second-grade teacher at Field, was their resource. Sporrer and her sons, who were not directly impacted by the storm, visited Field to answer student questions and share photos and videos from the storm.
"My students were very curious about the tornado in Washington and not only did they want to learn more, but they also wanted to do something to help the affected families," said Laurie Mason, Field Elementary School teacher. "Anne and her family were generous enough to share their experiences so my students could hear a firsthand account of what happened. I am so touched by my students' empathy and dedication to this project. This was one of the best teaching moments of my career."
Students researched Washington and the tornado, wrote questions for the visitors, volunteered recess time to create fliers to solicit donations, wrote letters of appreciation to first responders, and in their free time decorated T-shirts Mason had purchased to show support for Washington.
Sporrer and her sons, Matthew, Nathan and Paul, met with Mason's fourth graders and Kate Nelson's fifth graders, who were also studying tornadoes as part of a unit on natural disasters. The Sporrer family accepted the school's donation and the students' letters on behalf of the town.
"Each of these students modeled what it is like to have kindness and generosity in their hearts by dedicating themselves to this project and volunteering their time," said LaVonne Knapstein, Field Elementary School principal. "It is my hope that these caring feelings will continue to flourish throughout their lives."
The village of Hoffman Estates had recently purchased a used grapple truck for tree and brush collection, and after learning such equipment was needed in the cleanup, quickly found public works employees to volunteer to go there to load debris into dump trucks for transport to a waste facility.
Crews were assigned to clear wreckage from parkways and rights of way so utility companies could access their infrastructure to make repairs to their distribution systems. Crews worked 24 hours a day in rotating 12-hour shifts, enduring subfreezing temperatures and blustery conditions.
They had to be mindful of many hazards, including fire hydrants, ComEd transformers, propane tanks from barbecue grills, and garage door springs that would violently unwind when piles were disturbed. After a weeklong assignment, the team returned home just in time for Thanksgiving.
They said the people were very appreciative, the magnitude of the damage was overwhelming, and they had learned invaluable information pertaining to handling a disaster.
The Palatine Park District was one of the many organizations to join in a coordinated effort by the Illinois Association of Park Districts that has raised more than $21,000 statewide.
Steve Davis, a tradesman who has worked for the Palatine district 25 years, took the district's new dump truck and his 16-year-old son, Ethan, to Washington to help with cleanup efforts, working with other volunteers from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. for two nights.
"I have received help myself during some hard times, and I want to give back," Davis said. "Plus, I like adventure."
Ed Tynczuk, superintendent of parks & planning, said he knew Davis would be interested in volunteering. "He's always willing to help out people in need."
Meanwhile, the district's Service Committee Chairwoman Carol Lange, connected with Amy English, a part-time preschool teacher at Washington Park District. Amy and her family lost their home and their possessions as a result of the tornado. The committee added the English family to the 2013 holiday adopt-a-family staff donation program, and collected more than $900 for Amy, her husband Paul, and their children Emily, 17; Russell, 15; Joy, 11; and Grace, 10. More than 40 staff members and commissioners made personal donations of cash, gift cards, and presents to the English family.
On Dec. 17, Carol Lange and her husband Thom delivered the gifts and toured the area.
Lange also is working with Cheryl Tynczuk, landscape architect for Palatine Park District, to raise funds to replace trees in Washington parks. She approached the Palatine Park Foundation, and received approval to begin a fundraising effort. Information about this tax-deductible donation opportunity will be available in the district's Spring Catalog at the end of February.
"This tragedy hit close to home even though our districts are far apart geographically," said Mike Clark, the district's executive director. "Our industry is tight knit and we look out and care for each other. … I am happy and proud that the Palatine Park District could be of assistance in a critical time of need."