'Sluggers' group faithful in commitment to Joplin residents

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

The St. Louis Sluggers disaster recovery team, a 19-member crew of parishioners and friends from Queen of All Saints Parish in Oakville, has returned from Joplin after working on six projects.

This fall trip was their ninth trip to Joplin, starting in 2011 after a devastating tornado there. Previously they made 11 trips to the Mississippi Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.

The projects, spread out over the week, included:

• Siding of two new homes sponsored by Catholic Charities near the new Joplin High School.

• Additional projects for Catholic Charities on homes for residents with disabilities.

• Updating a worn entrance at the Joplin Boys and Girls Club and repairing the many "cubbies" where the nearly 250 latch-key students store their belongings.

• Doing much-needed carpentry and plumbing repairs for Sunshine Homes in nearby Carthage, Mo., that houses mentally disabled residents.

The trips began when Jerry Mueller, who has been on all 12, saw a bulletin item from a church noting the need for volunteers in Mississippi. The Sluggers have worked with Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans and others.

On May 22, 2011, an area that included perhaps a fourth of Joplin was flattened by a tornado. Some 160 fatalities, hundreds of injuries and 8,000 severely damaged or destroyed homes and businesses resulted. The group of 15 St. Louisans worked on three homes in the southwest Missouri community that fall in conjunction with Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities had just formed in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau when the tornado hit, and staff from St. Louis, Kansas City and elsewhere came to help. Mueller noted that the agency "has come a long way" since then and now has a construction manager, a professional engineer, who assists with housing projects.

People who were uninsured or underinsured have not been able to rebuild. There's been much improvement, but few blocks are complete in the damaged area. On a block of 12 homes, for example, about nine homes have been built, Mueller noted.

Jill Bryant, volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, said the Sluggers "have just been fantastic. It's a wonderful group, and they come to work."

People outside the damaged area who have housing issues that normally would have been addressed by charitable groups and others have been on waiting lists because of the need in the tornado-devastated area.

The Sluggers' 21st trip is planned for Spring 2016.

No previous construction experience is needed by volunteers. Among previous volunteers was Father Brian Fallon, who now is associate director of vocations for the archdiocese.

If interested in forming a own team or joining the Sluggers, email jmule2001@yahoo.com.

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