Neighbor helping neighbor: Engelberg Catholics respond

St. John parishioners David Helms (center) carries a box of supplies out while Bob Wren (back left) unloads donations in Mountain View Feb. 9.
St. John parishioners David Helms (center) carries a box of supplies out while Bob Wren (back left) unloads donations in Mountain View Feb. 9.

MOUNTAIN VIEW — Even before St. John parishioners Bob and Gwen Wren opened their car doors, Dorcas Thrift Store volunteers started unloading the back of their white pick-up truck in Mountain View Feb. 9.
The truck was full of supplies for the Stone County community whose residents were hit hard by a powerful tornado Feb. 5. The Wrens and six others from their Engelberg Catholic parish were among many Arkansans who had come to the aid of the rural town of 3,500.
Just before noon, when the St. John parishioners arrived, bottled water, blankets, propane gas cylinders and baby items were being taken from the outreach center as quickly as they were being donated.
Jim Kane, a board member of the Stone County Community Resource Council, the nonprofit organization that runs the thrift store, said he began unloading donations that morning at 7 a.m. and could not estimate how many vehicles had dropped off supplies but knew of five tractor trailer trucks that had been emptied; three of which were filled with bottled water.
The majority of donations, however, had come from individuals who “just started showing up” from across the state, he said.
Normally Dorcas Thrift Store is open Wednesday through Saturday to provide primarily food and clothing to low-income residents of the county, but it started taking donations for tornado victims Feb. 7. A local radio station began advertising that the nonprofit needed volunteers to help, and by Feb. 9, they had more than they could use, Kane said.
Overwhelmed by the response, he said tearfully, “I’ve lived in a bunch of places and this is the greatest place I’ve ever lived in my life. You cannot believe these people.”
Kane, who has lived in the area for eight years, said he did not lose his home in Allison, which is five miles from Mountain View. But like everyone in Stone County, he did not have electricity or safe drinking water since the storm hit five days earlier. The thrift store was operating on a generator. By the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 11, electricity had been restored to most residents in the county.
According to Deputy Randall Branscum of the Stone County Sheriff’s Office, on Feb. 9, the county had confirmed 68 businesses and homes destroyed in Stone County. Another 56 were damaged.
The hardest hit area was in east Mountain View along Highways 5 and 14 near the severely damaged Stone County Medical Center and Chevrolet Dealership. One person died there.
St. John parishioner Rose Throesch organized her parish’s outreach to Mountain View. In all, the parish filled two pick-ups and one sport utility vehicle with donated supplies. These included toiletry items, bottled water, flashlights, batteries, food, baby items, bedding, winter clothing, trash bags and first aid supplies.
Throesch, like the others in her group, did not know where she would be sent or how exactly she would help, but she knew she had to do something to help her neighbors in need.
Engelberg, located in Randolph County, was under a tornado warning the night of the storm, but was sparred. The next night, Ash Wednesday, St. John parishioners met for one of their Why Catholic? meetings at the parish hall and decided they had to help those who were not so fortunate. By the next morning, Throesch and others began soliciting donations from the parish’s 115 families.
When they learned that St. Mary Church in Mountain View, a mission of St. Peter the Fisherman in Mountain Home, was not receiving donations, Throesch led the St. John caravan to Dorcas Thrift Store, the community drop-off for supplies.
Once their vehicles were quickly unloaded, the group was put to work sorting clothes and carrying food, water and other supplies out to the cars of Stone County residents who had come to the thrift store for help, particularly the elderly and women with children. They also relieved volunteers for a much-needed lunch break. Most of the group stayed for the rest of the afternoon.
Throesch, a registered nurse, said, “I felt like I needed to stay longer. I wish I could have helped more.
“I’m used to being of service to people, but that was totally different. They really, desperately need our help,” she said. “They’re in such a remote area, they are out there in those hills, they just feel kind of cut off.”
Throesch said the tornado damage was worse than she anticipated.
“I expected houses to still be partially standing, or maybe still be habitable, but they’re not. They are in splinters on the ground, twisted metal,” she said. “People lost their jobs and their transportation and their homes. That whole county is based on tourism and you know their jobs went with it when those businesses went.”

Tara Little

Tara Little joined Arkansas Catholic in 2000 and has served in various capacities, including production manager and associate editor. Since 2006 she has managed the website for the Diocese of Little Rock.

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