4 minute readDisaster, Volunteers

My Thoughts from Joplin, MO

Red Cross Youth volunteer Jerrika Walkup, 15, has been helping people at the Red Cross shelter in Joplin, Missouri after a massive tornado tore through the town last week.  She is from Neosho, Missouri.

When the American Red Cross called me to ask if I could write a blog post about what I’ve seen and how I feel since I started helping in Joplin, I said “sure”, thinking it would be easy. After I started thinking about it and actually began processing the things I have seen, I started to wonder if I was ever going to be able to write this article. What I’ve seen and what I’ve been feeling is really hard to explain. I can’t even put it into words; it’s one of those things you have to go and experience for yourself to really understand and comprehend what kind of devastation has happened here in Joplin, MO.

Red Cross Youth volunteer Jerrika Walkup and Bryanna Cobb, 6, share a hug in the Red Cross shelter at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo. Bryanna’s family had been staying in the shelter after a tornado ripped through the town on May 22nd.

About a year ago my mom, who is a Red Cross Disaster Action Team member, asked me and my sister Sierra if we wanted to join the Red Cross as youth volunteers. Since I had already helped with feeding during a fire response, I said sure but after several meetings I started wondering when I would actually be needed and for what purpose. Then, Sunday May 22, 2011 happened and my sister Sierra and I asked our mom, “When are we going to help?” Despite currently recovering from a knee surgery, my mom eventually said, “Let’s go.”

The first day I went to the shelter at Missouri Southern State University. I thought it would be like all the other shelters I had worked at before, but I was wrong. This one was much bigger and had many more people in it. And there were so many children. The needs were immense.

I had only ever done feeding before in the other shelters I’d worked in but now in Joplin I was doing so much more. In addition to feeding at the shelter, I was also helping provide health care, child care and giving out basic supplies like toothpaste, soap and towels, anything the people needed. When I handed out some toothpaste to a guy, I thought about how sad it was and how hard it must be for him to have to ask for toothpaste from a stranger, much less a teenage girl like me. Somewhere deep down in my soul I had a kind smile for him but at the surface I wanted to cry.

On Tuesday there was another tornado warning and we had to rush everyone down to safety in the basement. I sat with a family, a mom and her 2 children, Bryanna who is 6 and who I am hugging in this picture. I felt such deep sorrow for all of the people downstairs, they were so scared. You could see it in their faces, some were crying, some were shaking, they were all hugging each other and holding on to one another. We were all like one big family, together and afraid. Sierra and I held children in our arms trying to comfort them, but honestly I myself was scared. I kept asking my mom, are you sure we are safe down here and even though she said yes, a part of me didn’t believe her. I kept whispering to God, please God, don’t let there be another tornado. I told my mom later that I was afraid we were all going to die. (Click here to see what you need to know before, during and after tornadoes and other disasters.)

As I worked in the shelter we fed over 300 people for each meal of the day. My sister Sierra and I also handed out a large trash bag full of our old toys and stuffed animals to the children in the shelter. Can you imagine being 5 years old and all your toys you were just playing with were gone in an instant? As we handed out toy after toy we were greeted with hugs from these children whose worlds had been shattered. We also passed out coloring books and crayons that we bought for the kids. I remember seeing Sierra coloring with a bunch of kids, trying to help them get back to being a kid – which I found both sweet and sad. What I felt I can’t really explain, but it’s a feeling I will never forget.

Sierra and I colored pictures with two little kids in particular that I will never forget. Their names were Alison and Jason and they were both 4 years old. After finishing their little masterpieces, these children gave me their colored pages. I think they will forever serve as a reminder to me of the kind of person I always want to be, the one that brings smiles to small faces that have been so scared and traumatized.

Though my sister and I find it fun and exciting to put smiles back on these children’s faces we also feel such sadness for these kids. They have lost their homes, their toys, saw horrible things and were frightened with a paralyzing fear that makes our hearts cry for them. They are locked in this huge building, sleeping on cots, and they can’t just go outside to play. I think about that, I think about that a lot. When we were giving the kids toys around the shelter, their faces lit up with such joy – joy over a toy – just some small object of hope to hold onto. I’m proud to know my sister and I was a little part of that hope.

I want to challenge all the teenagers out in the world to come together, get involved and help fix where we are failing. I hear a lot of adults talk about how we are a lazy generation and how worried they are about us. I think they are wrong, after what I’ve seen in Joplin and how people come together, I think that sometimes we just forget what is important. I’m asking all teenagers out there to join me to band together and help your neighbors in times of need. Put the video games down and turn off your cell phones and join me and my sister Sierra and help someone. Let’s remember that we are all brothers and sisters and let’s find a way to spread love and joy. There is good in all of us and it’s time we show the world what we can do.

As I end my post, I want to send a wish to all the people of Joplin, MO. I wish you all keep your sense of hope and the best of luck and love getting your lives back together. You are not alone and your neighbors will continue to support you.

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  1. Nice writing Jerricka. You are right that your generation doesn’t get a enough credit. Kudos to your mom for raising such great young ladies. Keep up the good work.

  2. From the bottom of my heart I thank you , your family and all those who came to give us comfort. Your right only those who came or lived here truly knows what a life defining time this is. Thank you and God Bless.

  3. Dear Lord. God Bless Jerrika & All the Red Cross Volunteers & Staff. We Ask Your Blessing on All in the Eye of Storms & Suffering & Devastation. We Thank-You That Others are Called to Help. And We Pray for an End to Human Suffering. In Jesus’ Name We Pray. Amen.
    “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn
    to stand and walk and run and climb and dance;
    one cannot fly into flying.”
    – Friedrich Nietzsche

  4. Jerricka,
    Thank you for being a part of the Red Cross response in Joplin. I’ve been a disaster volunteer for six years in Georgia but, thankfully, never experienced a disaster on the scale that you are in.
    The gift you are giving the people at the shelter is something that can’t be bought, can’t be replicated with technology, and can’t be ignored. You are giving yourself.
    When you feel fatigue or frustration about the challenges you see so many people experiencing, remember the arms of a trusting child reaching out to you for a hug. That’s her gift to you.

    Take care. I hope you’ll write again sometime.

  5. Great job in telling our story…thanks for all your hard work!

  6. Great job! Thanks for all your hard work!

  7. I am so proud to say that I know these girls as former students of Neosho Middle School. They were good citizens of middle school, and now that they are in high school, they are letting that good character shine. They have an excellent example in their mother who was always willing to help when she saw a need. I am proud of Jerrika and Sierra!! Way to pitch in and help out! These are the kinds of stories that we like to read coming out of tragedy! Keep up the good work!

  8. Wow jerrika this was amazing the things you and your family have done for joplin is just unexplainable i know its got to be hard but you guys just did you just went in there and helped its so amazing to see there are still people in this world who can keep from putting themselfs first i really like what you wrote i havent seen joplin but after reading this i can only imagine i mean just reading this brought tears to my eyes i just want to tell you and your family thank you for everything your doing im sure it means alot to those people in joplin

  9. Awesome job on the article Jerrika. Keep doing a great job at the shelter.

  10. Im so proud to be your uncle Garry. What you did and all the other volunteers did is truly amazing. Keep up the good work, you will go far in life. Hugs from Uncle G.

  11. It’s really amazing to see how just a few people can make a big difference in some ones life. I’m sooo proud of you and your family Jerrika truly I am. I have been reading this over and over and been crying for about 20 minutes now. It is unexplainable how these kids must of felt and what they been through those days and nights. You are right though Jerrika us as a nation are one big family. If everyone came together and put a side our differences and bonded to speak and be heard and let everyone know that we are here for them we would be stronger than ever. All we would see is the people from the front to the back side to side to help the people who need it. Now that would be so perfect. To bring people who have absolutely nothing back into this world where anything is possible. To let them be happy cause you put a smile on their face and be proud to say I did that. I made a tremendous difference is over 100 peoples lives. Thank you and your wonderful family for making this happen i know that these kids, men, and women will remember this for the rest of their lives. Thank you.

  12. Thank You, Jerrika [and Sierra…and all the others who are so selflessly sharing of time and energy!] As a former resident of Joplin during the early 70’s and having grown up in “Tornado Alley” I can understand a lot of what you all are going through. What a blessing you and the other volunteers are for the folks who have lost everything of earthly value. God Bless you in your efforts!

  13. Thanks to ALL of the Voluteers that responded to this Major Disaster! Your service to our community may never be repaid in dollars, but rest assured that “We the people of South West Missouri have long memories and if there is ever a time that we are needed to attend to you, our friends, please do not fail to call!”
    The amount and quality of friendly, good old hospitality, and smiles brought by you to this terrible situation, has reafirmed my faith in my fellow man! The statement of this State is “Show Me!” and how everyone I met did just that. Not just the Volunteers from our home State, but ALL of the folks that came to HELP!
    If God has ever Blessed any one, place, State, Nation, then surely we are on that list!
    For every door that closes, another one opens.
    Please take this opportunity to follow up with any support group, i.e. CERT, ARC, Fire Department, Law Enforcement, http://www.fema.gov, etc. that may be of interest and get involved. We need you!


    Richard F. Reber – EM

  14. I thought it was very sad that two of my daughters (14 and 15) flew from NC to take clothing and supplies for the victims of Joplin, MO and the Red Cross turned the items down. My girls were told they had to many things. I say be grateful when you get something. You may have used some and of course not. But, you would have something for the next disaster.

  15. Jennifer – I am sorry to hear that; unfortunately, we can’t accept donations of items like clothing and supplies because we purchase needed items in bulk locally. Please understand that the Red Cross doesn’t have the resources to sort, inventory, clean, and deliver used clothing or donated items. We make our purchasing decisions based on the very specific needs of the community, so it is much more cost effective and efficient to buy our supplies in bulk. Local community organizations often have clothing drives and item collections, so we would recommend researching to find out which ones can most effectively make use of your generous donation. Thanks for your time.

  16. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone that has read my blog and commented. Your comments have been very kind. I love helping people out and it was a blessing to meet all these wonderful children and adults from the Joplin tornado. I just hope that I was able to ease their pain just a little and I hope that my smile offered them some hope. May God bless the people of Joplin. I hope everyone out there will contuine to pray for them every night as I do. Again, thank you.

  17. I agree with everyone’s kind encouragement of Jerrika and other young volunteers like her! It was a pleasure working with Jerrika, as she reinforced my pride in the commitment level and selflessness of so many young people today – despite what griping others may do! I hope you’re well Jerrika! 🙂

  18. I’m still proud of my daughters and they work they did. Now that Jerrika has grown up, she’s gone into child care. Which isn’t surprising with the love she had for those children after the tornado. This mother will always be he proud of her daughters.