‘It’s utterly heartbreaking:’ What a Germantown youth group experienced in tornado cleanup

An area church youth group that traveled to help Dayton residents struck by Memorial Day tornadoes was touched by the devastating losses some uninsured people faced, and also the number of people offering to aid them as they helped the storm victims.

Matt Wilson, youth pastor of the Haven Youth Group at Germantown’s Abundant Life Tabernacle, said church members have visited at least four times since storms hit.

“It’s utterly heartbreaking and devastating to see the great loss that people are experiencing,” said Wilson, who teaches history at Hamilton’s Garfield Middle School.

On May 29, the second full day after the destruction, “a great deal of the community was still in a shock after the storms, and you could tell they were trying to process, but you could tell they were unable to, mentally, and were kind of walking in a daze, not knowing exactly what to do, or where to begin.”

The aunt of a church member has a home that was badly damaged in Dayton’s Northridge area. Like many, Wilson said, the aunt, who has a family of five with one on the way, did not have homeowner’s insurance.

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“Fortunately, we were able to seal it up, and I think her house is going to be OK — I think they’re going to be able to get back in it,” Wilson said of the woman’s home.

The youth group was able to remove an overhang that was dangling above the front door. Its members cut up more than a dozen trees on the property that were destroyed and brought a grill with hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and drinks to serve the community.

“We were able to help them remove a great deal of the debris and get them back on their feet,” Wilson said. “We were able to help them with some of their immediate needs.”

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The youth group also brought clothes for the family’s children, plus baby formula and diapers for the 8-month-old child.

“It was also incredibly empowering to see the outpouring of love in the community,” Wilson said. “We had so many different individuals walking by who just saw us working, so they just jumped right in and said, ‘Where can I help?’ We had about four chainsaws going, and we had other people driving by that saw us cutting, and so they jumped out and said, ‘OK, where can I help?’

“There were local pizza companies that were delivering free pizzas to everybody they saw working.”

Even more touching to him, he said, was that “we had people that we had no association with at all — they just saw us working — and they were coming by, saying, ‘Give us a list of what you need.’ They were taking trips to Lowe’s, and coming back with tarps, and necessary things like that to complete what we were trying to complete.”

Danny Ivers, 20, a 2017 Hamilton High School graduate and the first certified candidate to run in this year’s Hamilton City Council race, went with the group and took many eye-opening photos.

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Ivers said the group cleaned up shingles and other debris that were strewn in the family’s yard and elsewhere.

“It’s all devastated,” Ivers said. “Most of it there was a bunch of helpers. A bunch of people came down from not just Dayton, but neighboring cities, like Hamilton, and even people from out of state.

“It was awesome to see the overwhelming support they received.”

Wilson said even with all the help, some are in deep financial holes.

“I think a lot of us see things like this and we just default to, ‘Well, insurance will take care of them, they’re going to put them up in a hotel, they’ll take care of their needs,’” Wilson said. “That’s not a reality for so many — particularly in that area, where it’s really impoverished. It wasn’t uncommon for us to hear that there was no homeowner’s insurance. That was particularly devastating.

“Those people, particularly, need even more help, obviously, because they’re not coming back from it, unless the community does reach in, and help bear the load,” Wilson said.

ExploreRELATED: More than $300K donated for tornado relief

He was impressed by his youth group and others.

“It speaks loudly about their character, and those kids were from Hamilton, those kids were from Germantown, from Franklin, from Carlisle, so we had kind of a wide reach there of students who attend our youth ministry,” Wilson said.

“It’s one thing to have sympathy, it’s a whole other thing to have empathy and compassion and say, ‘Not only do I recognize that looks bad, but I feel the pain and I’m going to get in the mess with you … and we’re going to rebuild together.’”

How Can You Help?

Here are ways local people can help Dayton-area tornado victims:

  • For people wanting to help by volunteering, St. Vincent de Paul has set up a Volunteer Reception Center at Sinclair Community College to link those needing help with such volunteers. The reception center is at 220 S. Edwin C. Moses Blvd., Dayton, and will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • For those wishing to send money, The Dayton Foundation has established a Greater Dayton Disaster Relief Fund. People can mail contributions to The Dayton Foundation, 40 N. Main St., Suite 500, Dayton OH 45423. Donations also can be made online through this link.
  • Also, The Foodbank in Dayton provides food or water to people in need. To contribute online, go to https://thefoodbankdayton.org/donate/.

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