JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — It was Thursday afternoon, but many downtown Jefferson City residents weren’t at the office. Instead, they were literally picking up the pieces: sweeping away debris and glass, collecting fallen tree branches, roping off areas with downed power lines.
Shortly before midnight, a powerful tornado tore through the capital city, leaving behind a trail of destruction. Three people were killed in another devastating storm in the southwestern part of the state Wednesday, but — miraculously — no deaths have been reported so far in Jefferson City.
On Thursday, during the middle of the workday, the sun beat down. The intense humidity compelled shirts to cling to backs. But neighbors emerged from crumbling homes to help one another; strangers drove downtown to lend a hand; businesses provided free meals and a place to charge cell phones.
In Jefferson City, humanity shone through in the aftermath of the midnight storm.
In the shadow of a marred Simonsen 9th Grade Center and the Jefferson City Police Department, Champs Chicken parked a massive black, red, and yellow truck. The PFSbrands-owned food services company passed out boxes of fried chicken and water bottles to the community — at no cost.
“We actually had an event we were going to do … but because of the storms last night, that was cancelled,” Brittany Allen, who has been with the company for three years, told The Missouri Times after she helped load a woman’s bag with white boxes of chicken. “We had all the products prepared so we thought we would donate it to help the community today.”
Allen, 30, said the company was having a difficult time keeping up with the demand for food — but remained optimistic. “We have a lot more to cook,” she said.
Just down the street, 21-year-old Bakari Moody raked fallen tree limbs out of the yard of his mother’s apartment before tackling the more storm-ravaged homes across the street. He pointed to one house in particular — speckled with holes in its side and mangled trees and power lines crisscrossed in the yard.
Moody said an older gentleman lives in the house, and after the cyclone wreaked its havoc, Moody and his family helped the man get safely back to his bedroom with the promise he would check on him again Thursday morning.
First Baptist Church in Jefferson City — located just a few blocks away from a home left with a gaping hole in its side — also took in strangers, offering coffee, water, clean restrooms, electricity, and hugs. Hannah Coe, pastor of families and faith formation, said one neighbor was able to use the church to clean up and get ready for work.
Locally-owned Paulie B’s set up its food truck daily in different parts of destroyed neighborhoods, passing out over 3,100 plates of food to neighbors and workers. The Paulie B’s restaurant on Eastland has had doors open to first responders since Thursday.
On Facebook, Yanis Coffee Zone offered a free small coffee and a place to charge phones to those impacted by the tornado. Additionally, the business said it “decided to extend our love to this community that gave us so much” and will provide free egg wraps and coffee to all first responders.
By Thursday evening, Cole County Republicans turned a planned picnic into a way to feed first responders and citizens who spent the day cleaning their yards. The Party — along with state lawmakers and members of the governor’s staff — put together boxes of hamburgers or hotdogs, chips, cookies, and water, Rep. Sara Walsh, who represents parts of Cole County, said.
“It’s a small way to help, but it’s something we are able to help with,” Walsh told The Missouri Times, adding she’s seen an “overwhelming outpouring” of her constituents who hope to help.
Additionally, the United Way of Central Missouri has been inundated with calls from people in and around Jefferson City seeking ways to help rebuild.
“We have certainly been blessed with a wonderful community with everyone stepping forward to help,” Amber Brondel, the marketing and communications manager for the United Way of Central Missouri told The Missouri Times. “The phones have been ringing all day long. We truly have such an amazing, supportive community.”
“We know it’s going to take all of us working together, and we have no doubt that this community has the support, and we will rebuild together,” she added.
Along with the American Red Cross Central & Northern Missouri Chapter, the nonprofit charitable organization is encouraging those seeking help — who aren’t in immediate danger — to dial 211. Through that program, an individual will be able to speak to a specialist who can help provide referrals and support for things such as physical or mental health needs.
Those wanting to help can donate to the American Red Cross or bring a financial or water donation to the United Way of Central Missouri at 205 Alameda Drive. Additionally, members of the community can register online to be a volunteer to be deployed to assist the community when it’s safe.
The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency has also encouraged individuals who wish to volunteer to register at the old Sears store at the Capital Mall.
And for those who might need legal advice after the storm, the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys is ready to help — for free. The attorneys can help with insurance claims, government relief programs, issues with landlords, replacement of legal documents destoryed in the storm, and more.
“The damage these tornadoes and severe storms caused is simply devastating, but I have been encouraged and inspired by the resilience and spirit of the storm survivors I’ve been fortunate to meet with today,” Gov. Mike Parson said in a statement. “In a time of tragedy, Missourians once again came together and supported and cared for their neighbors, and our first responders acted with speed and skill to rescue survivors.”
Jefferson City has a population of about 40,000 people. The legislative session ended last week, meaning most lawmakers are back home in their districts across the state.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.