By Riley Manning
TUPELO – More than 3,000 volunteers from 37 states descended Saturday upon areas touched by April’s tornado to mend homes, and attitudes.
“We’re thankful they’re here. So much has been done already, but there’s still so much left,” said Joan Lansdell, a Joyner neighborhood resident for more than 30 years. “And these people know what they’re doing. They help my feelings as much as they help my house.”
Eight Days of Hope founder Steve Tybor addressed the volunteers early Saturday morning, telling them to prepare to be good listeners and open themselves to the tornado victims and the community.
“We’re expecting God to do some great things in the next eight days,” he said. “Remember who you represent. The best sermon I ever heard was the one I saw.”
Tupelo will be the Christian initiative’s 11th project since its first effort in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. That campaign, according to Eight Days of Hope ambassador Sonshine Ashcraft, was thought to have done well by drawing just 600 volunteers. This time around, she said, half of the volunteers are first-time participants, and 800 of them come from the local area.
“For disaster victims, we help bring them some hope,” she said. “And for the volunteers, its a really grounding experience. There’s a job for everybody, even if its something like making sandwiches for lunch or cleaning up after the larger group has left.”
Over the next week, volunteers will come to the aid of 165 uninsured and underinsured homeowners. They also will work to improve city parks and to remove fallen timber behind the damaged American Legion post.
For Louisiana volunteer John Troyer, Tupelo will be his second run with Eight Days of Hope, but not his last.
“It’s amazing to see the impact on the affected families. For me, it’s coming and seeing what God has for me to do,” he said.
Oklahoma volunteer Aaron Jennings is a bit more seasoned. Tupelo is his fifth Eight Days of Hope project.
“The people they have in place make it so easy to just be able to show up and get to work,” he said. “The church gets a bad rap these days, and this is a great opportunity to come out and show who we really are.”