The First Church of Monson lost its steeple in the storm, making it an easily visible landmark and natural gathering point for those in need and those who wished to help.
In the first days following the storm, hundreds of volunteers began pouring into the area. The church opened its doors, accepting donations and providing meals and support to the community. It would be a few days, however, until an orderly system emerged.
Morgan and I got involved early on: we brought over a netbook, a Macbook and my dad’s ancient Sprint aircard to start putting Monson’s recovery on the computer.
Volunteers who had come initially for yardwork stayed to organize, databasing the massive amounts of resources the church had already taken in, creating a volunteer database, forms, press releases. No one had ever coordinated an operation at this scale before, but an organized system made it surprisingly straightforward.
We used what we had, and we simply asked the internet for things we needed. A local teen created a Facebook group during the storm. We created a Tornado Relief profile for the church command center, and used the group to communicate our needs with the outside public.
It worked. Within five days, we could post “Gatorade” on the Tornado Watch Facebook group, and twenty minutes later someone would arrive with a carload. Within a couple of weeks, the Monson Tornado volunteers, backed by the First Church of Monson, had become an autonomous and integral part of Monson’s phenomenal recovery.
What we saw in Monson was not groundbreaking – it was the same process experienced by every other area recovering from a disaster. People need to be organized, so they organize, with whatever tools they can find or make. Monson was lucky to get online as fast as it did, in an area that did not regain internet access for nearly two weeks. I’m starting to realize most local relief efforts aren’t as lucky.
Volunteers Wendy Deshais and Kayla Biggs at the Tornado Volunteer tent outside of the First Church: