Volunteers thank donors, plan another trip to help tornado victims
Prescott Valley businessman Warren Micale returned from a second trip to tornado-ravaged Joplin, Miss., this past month, but his heart is still with those whose lives have been uprooted, and he can't get the pictures of the devastation out of his mind.
"Words don't describe it. The media can be there and show you things, but when you are standing in the middle of it, it's just unbelievable," he said.
From May 29 - June 4, Micale spearheaded a team through his Prescott Valley tour business, Master's Touch. He provided a bus to transport a volunteer crew. Rush Peterbilt donated the use of a tractor truck, and Bennett Oil provided a 53-foot semi-trailer and two drivers. Local donors did the rest, filling the trailer to the brim with everything they could think of that tornado victims might need. And, they threw in $20,000 in cash on top of that, pouring out their hearts to people who had lost virtually everything.
Both Prescott Walmart stores allowed the Micales to park the tractor trailer in their parking lots, and one of the stores even announced every 15 minutes how, and where, people could donate.
Micale said the group used the cash to buy tents, sleeping bags and cots, among many other items. Some 600 families still are living by the river in Joplin, Micale said, their homes and possessions gone. Some of the purchases included ice chests, food, water, and some small items for the children of that group.
As if the complete destruction of a 13-mile-long, 1/4-mile-wide swathe of the city of Joplin wasn't enough, Micale said, some unscrupulous contractors and retailers are price gouging, charging victims of the tornado far and above fair prices for goods, rentals and repairs.
Micale made the acquaintance of one family of four, Frank and Diana Herrera and their two young children, who had lost everything but the property on which their house once stood. They found an apartment, but were spending equal to their monthly payment to rent a few pieces of furniture. He took them to a used furniture store in another community and got them what they needed - beds, couch, coffee tables, and chairs. When store managers heard what Micale was doing, they discounted the entire purchase.
Insurance will rebuild this family's home, and they have said they will donate all of the furniture supplied by donors to others in need. But having someone come by and support them in a terrible time meant more than anything.
"We spent the entire week helping this family, and before we left, Frank leaned over to me and said, 'At the start of this week I wasn't sure how I was going to take care of my family. Thank you so much.' He was almost in tears," Micale said.
The work is far from done, as families such as the Herreras are everywhere, trying desperately to put their lives back together. Micale plans to see it through. He will take another group of volunteers back in September or October, when the heat and humidity lessen, and many volunteers will have gone home.
Master's Touch has established a disaster relief fund at the M&I Bank to continue to raise money for tornado victims.
"We need more money, good used furniture such as dressers, bookcases, and dinette sets, mostly anything to set up a household," Micale said.
He asked that people would donate very good used or new items, because many of the donated items he saw in Joplin were dirty, mismatched or worn out. He emphasized that those kinds of donations did not come from the local area.
"We would like to purchase new cookware and dishes for people, we don't want to give them castoffs. Things that we would walk into a kitchen and get, that we take for granted, they've lost it all. One lady at the warehouse suggested we imagine we were going to a wedding and helping a new couple set up. They need clocks, fans, even generators."
The local team used some of the cash donations to purchase new items for the church "warehouse" in Joplin where donations were organized.
"Cash donations are best," Micale said. "We can take it and buy needed items."
Micale said Master's Touch will announce the next trip to Joplin, and this time, also will be able to include women volunteers. They couldn't do that during the first trip because no accommodations were available.
"We'll take as many people as want to go," he said, "We'll send as many buses as it takes."
Both the staff of Master's Touch and mostly the recipients of the generosity of Prescott area donors express their thanks. Micale invites the public to stop by the Master's Touch office and view several albums of the first trip.
For information on donations, the upcoming trip back to Joplin, or to see the photos of the past trip, call 928-759-0206 or toll free 866-228-7874.