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Help headed to Washington

About 60 miles northwest of the tornado-struck Washington area, Bureau County residents, businesses, schools, churches and groups are organizing collection drives to gather needed items for the storm victims.

An estimated 1,000 homes were damaged, and many were destroyed during Sunday’s storm, which recorded several tornado touchdowns and winds reaching into the 190 miles per hour range. Clean-up efforts have begun as residents were allowed back into their neighborhoods on Tuesday to begin searching through the debris to see if they could find anything salvageable from their homes.

On Sunday, Lindsay Ponsetti of Simply Fresh in Spring Valley put a request on her store’s Facebook page for collections of clothing and other items for the victims of Sunday’s tornado in Washington.

“My friends and customers have brought in items like toiletries and clothing,” she said. “I have some family and friends who live there. None of them lost their homes, but it is a devastating situation.”

Ponsetti intends to take the items she has collected and transport them to Washington, to take to the three designated drop-off points in the town.

“I thought it was a good idea to get donations together,” she added, indicating she has collected about three boxes full of items and 5-10 garbage bags full of clothes.

Ponsetti said she will accept any additional donations at her store located at 808 W. Dakota St. in Spring Valley.

A day following the tornado, a group of Princeton residents met together and found a church near Peoria that would collect anything and everything donated for the storm victims. The friends, which include Jen Matthews, Kelly and Mike Morris, Kenny Kramer, Mindy Kramer and Nicole Pelszynski, put their heads together and began collecting whatever people were willing to donate.

On Tuesday, Mindy Kramer said collections started at the Matthews’ home and in three different vehicles. The Kramer’s Kitchen Catering van was then parked outside the downtown business with a sign that reads “Washington Tornado Relief.” People would pull their vehicles right up to the collection van, Kramer said.

Plans were to take the collected items on Wednesday to Washington and on Friday to Pekin.

“We just felt like this could have happened to us,” Kramer said. “It was too close to home, and it could have easily been our own homes and businesses.”

The American Red Cross is heavily involved in relief efforts for the tornado-hit sites in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. Red Cross emergency vehicles have traveled to the affected communities, providing shelter, distributing meals, snacks and relief supplies. Community aid stations have been opened where people can get food and snacks, mental health and health care services, and information about what help is available.

On Wednesday, Bureau County Red Cross Director Lori Compton said the American Red Cross has been in Washington since Sunday, as well as other affected communities, providing multiple services to the victims of the storm. As of Tuesday night, the Red Cross had opened 19 shelters throughout the Midwest area and served 14,000 meals and snacks and distributed 1,000 relief items in Illinois alone. The Red Cross will be at these sites, helping with recovery efforts, for weeks, she said.

Local trained disaster volunteer Mike Hellberg of Princeton has returned from the Pekin and Washington areas, where he was part of a Red Cross assessment team, Compton said.

In his conversation with Compton, Hellberg said there was a section of about 20 homes in Pekin which were badly damaged and then blocks of total destruction in Washington. There were places where the team couldn’t tell which street they were on because the streets signs were gone. There were probably more than 400 homes completely destroyed, several more hundred homes receiving major damage, with other homes having minor damage.

To help with the continuing Red Cross efforts, people can send their contributions
to the Bureau County Red Cross office, 435 S. Main St. in Princeton. Or, they can also donate $10 by texting REDCROSS 90999, by donating online or through Facebook.

The Red Cross is solely funded through donations from the public and help is always needed to continue providing those services, Compton said.

“It’s amazing how small communities come together and work together to help out each other,” Compton said. “We have a lot of generous people.”

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