JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - Nearly two years a tornado flattened much of Joplin, acts of generosity continue to lighten the burden for some who lost everything.
On Thursday, resident Rhonda Wilkins received a precious gift - the deed to a piece of land for a new home - from a stranger who also lost much on May 22, 2011, The Joplin Globe reported.
Land donor Patricia Bryan said she and her husband talked about contributing some land to the recovery effort within months of the tornado. David Bryan passed away in May 2012, and she donated the home site last fall to Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian organization that helps survivors of natural disasters, wars and other catastrophes.
"It was just a God-blessed day for me in many ways," Wilkins said of Thursday. "Words can't really say how I feel inside."
Wilkins has not had a permanent home since the tornado struck. She was in nearby Riverton, Kan., that day and saw the storm head east toward Joplin. As soon as she heard about the devastation from television reports, she jumped in her car and drove back to Joplin to check on her home - which proved nearly impossible to find amid the destruction.
"I had four walls still standing, but it was devastation everywhere," she said.
Wilkins said she and her two sons spent a few days salvaging what they could. She moved in with a friend, but was so stunned at what had happened that for months she could not ask for help from any of the relief organizations.
Patricia and David Bryan survived the tornado in the shelter of their basement. They emerged to find two-thirds of their house gone. The Bryans also owned eight rental properties throughout Joplin; three were either destroyed or damaged.
In the weeks that followed, they were surprised by the outpouring of help from volunteers, particularly from those associated with Samaritan's Purse. Bryan said it was not unusual for groups of people to show up at one of their properties to assist with debris removal and cleanup.
"It was just like an army of ants," Patricia Bryan said. "They just showed up in crews."
Because Samaritan's Purse is not authorized to receive property donations, the Joplin Family Worship Center handled the transaction on behalf of the organization, pastor Daniel Wermuth said. Local attorney Scott Vorhees provided the legal services, he said.
Volunteers have already begun building Wilkins' new three-bedroom home. Wilkins will contribute at least 75 hours of work on the project and said she's looking forward to once again having a home, doing yardwork, planting flowers and cooking meals for her sons in her own kitchen.
She said that without the Bryans' donated property, she likely would not be expecting to move into a house later this year.
"I could tell them "thank you' over and over again 1,000 times, but it would never be enough," she said. "I am so grateful of the donation that they made."