Kirkwood to Joplin: An Unforgettable Road Trip
How two college students from Kirkwood came up with a simple idea to help Joplin, MO, tornado victims that turned into a regional outpouring of support and an experience of a lifetime.
When Kirkwood residents Brad and Renee Schaefer saw the news clips coming out of Joplin, MO, following the city’s devastating tornado, they knew they had to do something.
The brother and sister, both college students, created a Facebook event asking people to volunteer in Joplin, but then the powers of social media worked their magic.
"In the course of the day, the event spread virally," explained Brad, 21, an entering senior at Truman State. "Friends of friends started spreading it."
The event really took on a life of its own when Highway 61 Roadhouse and Kitchen Owner Bill Kuntz saw the invite.
"He picked up the email and took full swing at it," Brad said. Kuntz offered the restaurant as a drop-off location for donations and sent an email to customers about the donation drive. Kuntz also provided boxes, pallets, a moving truck to deliver donations and a friend to drive the truck.
"He made it possible for everyone in St. Louis to contribute," Brad said. And they did.
The Friends of the Roadhouse collected enough to fill the 28-foot box truck full of supplies such as clothes, water, toiletries and food.
“(The event) just snowballed overnight,” said Renee, who will graduate from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a liberal arts degree this week. “It was great that it turned out as big as it was and that there was so much support.”
Brad, Renee and two of Brad’s friends road down to deliver supplies. They arrived in Springfield, MO, May 26, where they donated food supplies to Ozarks Food Harvest food bank and bags of clothing to Crosslines of Springfield.
The group of young people then traveled to Joplin, where they dropped off more supplies, including tarps and generators, as well as $2,100 in monetary donations, to the American Red Cross at Southern Missouri State College.
"You see all the devastation and pictures cannot describe what happened there," Brad said. "At one point we took a minute and stopped and did a 360. There was nothing higher than maybe 6 or 7 feet. It definitely looked like a war zone. I couldn't compare it to anything else in my lifetime."
Renee described the scene as something out of movie. “It was complete devastation,” she said.
Some of the most striking images for Brad were the houses left in rubble, where the only sign that the structure used to be a residence was a spray painted address on the debris and a message of where residents had gone to seek help.
"It was the only way they had to communicate with each other," Brad said.
Brad, Renee and Friends of the Roadhouse left their own message for Joplin: St. Louis cares and has not forgotten the city’s need for support.
Renee urges readers who want to assist in relief efforts to make a monetary donation to the American Red Cross.