Tornado relief: Volunteers, nonprofits in it for the 'long haul'
Laura Coyle waited out the storm in dread, terrified that a tornado that plowed east from Naperville through Woodridge Sunday night would cut off a lifeline at the West Suburban Community Pantry.
But as soon as she knew the recently expanded building in Woodridge was left untouched, Coyle, the pantry's executive director, returned to crisis mode.
Not even 10 hours after tornado sirens wailed, the pantry announced a disaster response. The nonprofit lifted income restrictions, added service hours, and began to spread a message that its doors were wide open to victims of the tornado.
About a five-minute drive from the trail of destruction in Woodridge, the pantry sent volunteers to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church to distribute food and water. On Tuesday, the pantry started offering donations of buckets and gloves for people cleaning up yards littered with debris.
"It's been mostly us gearing up for the long haul," Coyle said.
As the American Red Cross provides emergency relief in the immediate aftermath, the pantry is preparing to sustain families through the gradual rebuilding of their homes and lives.
The pantry joined other nonprofits and religious groups in putting out calls for donations and volunteers to help meet the need in the months to come.
But by the looks of the initial recovery efforts, tornado-ravaged neighborhoods have already seen an outpouring of support. Streets that were a disaster zone Sunday are now blocked off with mounds of donated water and rolls of paper towels. People who saw homes left in shambles responded with an instinct to do the grunt work.
"If you walk through the neighborhoods and see the spirit of people helping out their neighbors, dealing with fallen trees, the full spirit of Naperville is on display," City Councilman Ian Holzhauer said.
Chris Pritchett and his family walked through a hard-hit area of Naperville handing out doughnuts and coffee Monday around Nutmeg Lane. Then he gathered a group of friends and began removing trees that had fallen into residents' driveways or onto their homes.
By his estimate, they hauled away about 15 trees throughout the day.
"It was an incredible amount of work," Pritchett said.
But he was back first thing Tuesday morning, searching for any more trees that needed to be chopped up and removed. When he realized most of the driveways and streets had been cleared, he joined the efforts of Bike Bald, a local organization that supports kids with serious illnesses.
Its volunteers also coordinated donations of food, water, pet items and home supplies, Bike Bald founder Debbie Mossburg said.
It took only about an hour for the Islamic Center of Naperville to marshal a volunteer response to the tornado. The center activated a meal chain and a hotline -- (773) 234-6627 -- to help take care of anyone who needs it.
The center will deliver home-cooked meals made by elderly women for families. Its youth leaders were part of a group of volunteers from Chi-Care and ICNA Relief picking up debris and giving out water and food on Tuesday to an area near Edgewood Elementary School in Woodridge.
"Everyone just stepped up right away," said Zakiya Ahmed, the center's youth director. "When we saw the pictures and read the news, we were ready to go and help out."
The Red Cross also has sent an emergency vehicle into neighborhoods to pass out boxed meals. The relief organization on Monday opened a temporary shelter at Jefferson Junior High in Woodridge and has served roughly 100 people with breakfast, lunch and dinner and a safe place to rest, said Holly Baker, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
"We will be open as long as we're needed here," she said.
The West Suburban Community Pantry also will connect displaced families with shelter or clothing.
"The Red Cross is in the community handling that first response, front-line need," Coyle said. "And then we are anticipating that it's going to come our way probably later this week or early next week, once the sort of immediate shock wears off and people start to settle into a new normal that they have to deal with."
So the pantry is seeking donations of food, diapers, pet food, cleaning supplies and gas cards. The pantry is mobilizing those resources while still meeting pandemic-related demand for groceries. It serves about 3,000 clients a month.
"I'd be lying if I said we are a little bit in shock that here we are dealing with another disaster mode situation," Coyle said, "but the good news is we're here and able to support the community."