Settled in at the Shoal Creek Campground in Joplin among all those white campers! Driving by on the interstate, Bussie stands out in the center as the only non-white RV. Think about it- most RV are white, weird. Most of our neighbors were there on business relating to the tornado clean up. Big trucks and trailers, insurance signs, food service rigs etc. Everyone up and out early then back to bed at a reasonable hour.

Our final day in Joplin was determined  abruptly. Leaving the JFWC after another full day of work on Saturday, we expected to return Tuesday. The church staff would take off their normal day of rest on Sunday, and a well deserved down day for the Fourth of July. Saturday had been a good work day, with a steady stream of shoppers pulling from the stockpiles to outfit their new lives, and a constant flow of goods coming in from the parking lot. I was so sure that we’d be back on Tuesday, I left a note to myself with a list of things that were priorities to keep my section organized.

The toiletries department being sorted by 3 of our own, and a Lundy. It was good to be working with brothers and sisters, and friends that kept things fresh and kept us motivated.

The JFWC was separated into several areas that seemed typical of most distribution centers: receiving was outside: incoming trucks would arrive, many times escorted by their churches pastor or staff that had organized the supply collection effort. Those trucks would be emptied by the redirected swarm of volunteers sometimes 20 strong to slide the boxes across the trailer floor to waiting hands, then be stacked outside in some order that made sense to the group leaders. Once unloaded, the visiting donors would usually tour the work areas and grab a cold drink out of the iced horse trough then load back up, home bound. Their work had started days or weeks before as they rallied their communities for donations- and climaxed with this delivery.

Being on the receiving end of the donations was – interesting. Amid pallets of brand new medical supplies, food stocks, used clothing & everything else were piles of junk. After setting the unsorted donations in families of like goods, volunteers would inspect the household items individually because so much of it was unusable and had to be moved to the discard trailer- which would be hauled off for further salvage and would result in a small price paid per pound, but seemed to me to be a waste of volunteers time. Picture this: volunteers traveling from all points of the country to stand in 96 degree heat (usually not shaded) sorting discarded clothing that was not suitable for use (missing buttons, tears, stains etc etc). That could have been avoided at the point of donation when you and I consider a little more carefully what we give next time there’s a disaster and need by our United States neighbors.

My eyes were opened by the amount of times donations were handled- and junk just slowed down the whole process. Once in the yard, good items were sorted into tents or under tarp cover for use inside as they could be rotated in according to their arrival date and expiration date if perishable. Once inside donations had to be individually counted and added to inventory (for tax accounting, they said). Once counted in, multi packs were broken down into single items to ease the goal of distributing enough goods for a week’s use. Ready for distribution, food items were organized into departments much like a grocery store and set out for picking by a set of volunteers that would handle supply requests by filling orders from a sheet that the ‘customer’ had completed outlining their family size and specific needs. Early in the process, the church staff learned the hard way that allowing people to come and take what they need was chaotic at best. In addition to not being familiar with where things were at, customers would browse for extended periods of time finding the name brands and leaving the store brands- and when they did find a good item, they would take all of them. So, the pickers were created, and very effectively minimized the time that customers had to wait, while filling their requests with abundant supplies of food. Even the smallest families left with 6-8 bags of groceries, and larger families filled two Sam’s Club sized shopping carts. The younger kids stepped in at this stage and loaded vehicles with groceries.

While their grocery order was being picked, customers could come to the other side of the sanctuary and browse clothing (that had been sorted 3-4 times before being set out), and toiletries, and baby supplies. I’ll admit it, for a few days I was put in charge of keeping that side running. Make your jokes now- maybe about a man being in charge of ‘feminine hygiene products’, or managing the lotion bin, or folding underwear- I’ve heard ‘em all! IN FACT, keeping the deodorant in full supply, and creating some organization in the clothing section, and protecting valuable infant supplies against hoarding was Work. It was also a rewarding challenge for my pervasive underlying desire to work, it was an opportunity to work alongside every child in our family- as long as they could stand it, and it was inside. We gave our time outside for work efforts anytime there was a call for more hands, and our first day and a half were in blistering conditions- but the outside work for an extended period was asking for trouble. Remember our objective coming into this was to work in a place that our whole family could serve alongside each other, and we found it inside this church sanctuary.

The whole week we’d been up early and working hard, so the morning started slowly and the talk turned to going home, since it was fairly well known among the ranks that our next stop was in our own driveway. It was getting harder for the kids to hide their enthusiasm about being home. In our minds (we, the parents) we were going to take two days off and hit the ground running at the JFWC on Tuesday, and depart next weekend for home. Sunday held the promise of a birthday party, swimming in the creek with our RV friends and Monday promised some great local fireworks and music.

It's not always hard work for Simon and Carson- seeing how far they could roll in a basket between tough job assignments.

Anya found a spot she liked helping- in the kitchen! Meals were served for volunteers and staff, as well as any community members that were hungry.

Family meeting convened, departure discussed, informal vote results in a majority to head for home. Facts we considered: I had just paid for 2 more nights, our work here was beneficial, hard work = personal satisfaction, we already had a birthday gift for Carson, and I had a list on the table in the soap section at JFWC of things to do on Tuesday. Kelly and I talked about it, and decided that it would be in our family’s best interest to stay. We kept talking, and in one of our better parenting moves, decided to hand the final decision over to the kids. They had all of the information, they had a clear understanding of our wishes to stay- but they also had on their side that they had been going along with our decisions for months. They had been (pretty) good sports about where and when and why we did things on this trip. They had some, but generally little control over final decisions that affected the whole group.

(Sitting directly under the powerful AC duct) Brian, Polly and Carson Godwin then Meila and Matt Lundy are part of the crowd opening Carson birthday present in a makeshift get together.

On their own they checked to see if a refund was possible, they considered that we would see the Godwin family and be able to give Carson a birthday gift, they reluctantly gave up the opportunity to dip their hot bodies back into Shoal Creek and they opted to make the move home, NOW, in time for fireworks in our own community. “Could I make the drive?” they asked more than once (it was about 14 hours driving). Confidently I replied Yes, secured the drawer latches and reset the GPS by pressing ‘Home”. I had pressed this button before- just to see how far we were from home several times during the last year…

We said our goodbyes to the Lundys and Godwins and started for home. They headed for the creek…

Good bye to the Godwins, just minutes before starting the motor and hooking up the van for the big push home.

It always feels good to get behind the wheel with a lot of miles ahead, with the challenge to reduce the estimated time of arrival on the face of TomTom the GPS. In a matter of 90 minutes it wouldn’t be sweltering heat any more, and I’d be asking Kelly to bring the weather radio to the front of the bus so we could tune in for our trip through the heart of Tornado Alley, across Kansas as the evening settled in with a fiery sunset..

Heading Northwest through Kansas. Take note: full clouds, sheets rain moving toward our path, rain drops starting what will be a very wet drive tonight.

For the record, I didn’t really fold any underwear. We only handled brand new underwear in the package in my department.