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All faiths work together

The Open Door Baptist Church was packed with singing children on May 4, the night the first tornado touched down.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | KANSAS CITY | May 10, 2003


"Thing is, we had 200 children in here, and they were all singing. They were singing so loud they couldn't even hear the tornado."

The Open Door Baptist Church was packed with singing children on May 4, the night the first tornado touched down a mile west of here, near the Kansas City Speedway.

"The tornado went right around our church," said Beth, a parishioner at the church who took off from work Friday to help with relief efforts. "Thing is, we had 200 children in here, and they were all singing. They were singing so loud they couldn't even hear the tornado."

Many of the residential areas around the church were devastated by the twister, and the situation was so bad that police completely closed off the whole area the day after the storm. Even on Friday, police roadblocks were still set up at the entrances to the hardest-hit communities.

"We couldn't get in here Sunday night," said Gary Jones, the children's minister for the church. "The police had it all shut down. We couldn't get in until Tuesday when the electricity came back on."

But this congregation of more than 700 people has been busy since then, Jones said, collecting canned food and other donations.

"We started with nothing," he said, proudly pointing to a room filled with donated goods.

Rhonda Gasaway, a resident of the nearby suburb of Prairie Village, isn't even a member of the church. But she has been in charge of sorting through donations since Tuesday.

"I was trying to find a way to help," she said.

According to Jones, the church also intends to provide counseling sessions, or "debriefings," for adults as well as children next Monday night. The sessions were arranged in cooperation with The Salvation Army and local mental health agencies.

Such sessions are badly needed, Jones thinks. This necessity became apparent to him on Tuesday, when thunderstorms darkened the skies around Kansas City.

"Tuesday the clouds rolled in, and the panic - you could just feel the fear," he said. "But it was just a thunderstorm."

In addition, Mennonite chainsaw crews ? about 75 men ? have been showing up at the church, getting directions to areas of need, then going out and cleaning up.

"They just showed up," Jones said. "They're incredible."

On the Missouri side of Kansas City, The Salvation Army is also diligently at work, setting up a massive donations center in an old K-Mart building on State Street.

Rich Forney, administrator of The Salvation Army office in Lawrence, is now running the warehouse here. There is still plenty of empty space in the building, but it's quickly filling up, he said.

He pointed to several pallets stacked with boxes of cleaning supplies. Each box bears a sticker: "The Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ."

"These guys drove 14 hours to get it here," Forney said. "It took us an hour to unload it. And they drove 14 hours back."

In the sorting area, volunteers took items from the loading dock and separated them into categories. Sheets of yellow ledger paper were taped to the wall. Formula. Diapers. Chips. Snacks.

Near the front entrance, the sorted goods are set up on rows of tables.

"It's a great way to shop. Actually 'shopping' is a loose term, because it's all free," Forney said. "They can come back, and keep coming back, because we're going to be here for months."

The Salvation Army also has some other guests sharing the warehouse. A local Lion's club had set up a table near the case management area, and they were handing out cash vouchers to storm victims. Then there were representatives from the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu-Chi Foundation, who came, not from Taiwan, where the foundation is headquartered, but Topeka, Kansas.

Jack Lin, the Topeka coordinator for Tzu-Chi, said his group is using a model established after Sept. 11 response. They cut checks for victims, based on the severity of their loss ? $1,000 for families who suffered a fatality, $500 for families who lost their home, and lesser amounts for lesser degrees of damage.

The intent, Lin said, is to help people "go through the hard times quickly and easily." And one way to accomplish this is to "immediately deliver money to the families."

The Tzu-Chi Foundation has its American base of operations in California, and Lin said his boss called him up right after the tornados hit.

"Jack, just do it," his boss told him. "Use the 9-11 models."


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