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story.lead_photo.caption Rebecca Martin/News Tribune Cassie Huckabay, with her children, Henry Huckabay, 6, and Eleanor Huckabay, 3, stand on Jackson Street where they could see their own home from atop the hill after the May 22, 2019, tornado knocked down trees throughout the area. Huckabay matched up families in need with families who wanted to "adopt" them after the tornado.

Being a hero to someone doesn't take much. If you ask Cassie Huckabay, it's as easy as leaving your house.

After the May 22 tornado hit Jefferson City, Huckabay and her children — 6-year-old Henry and 3-year-old Eleanor — weren't home much.

"I just got really tired of people here saying, 'I really want to do something, but I don't know what to do,'" she said. "Just get out; walk out of your house, walk down Jackson Street, introduce yourself. These people want to tell you what happened to them."

The day after the tornado, Huckabay reached out to her online business' network of customers, who immediately began donating money to help Jefferson City's relief efforts. The Huckabays took the money to Sam's Club, where they purchased $750 worth of snacks, then delivered them to area first responders.

"It's important for me to teach the kids about the opportunity to give back to other people and to see — age-appropriately — how it affected other people," Huckabay said.

It was a learning experience, and it wasn't even close to over.

"Delivering the snacks wasn't enough, especially after we had driven around and seen the level of devastation just down the street from us," she said. "I really wanted to meet the people who were affected."

So she went to the American Red Cross shelter at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and started asking families what they needed.

"The first thing out of all their mouths: 'I don't need anything,'" she remembers. "But they had nothing. They were obviously wearing the pajamas that they had been wearing the night before. It had rained that night, and these people had sat on the corner because they couldn't be in their house."

Once she reminded them of basic necessities they were lacking, she filled a notebook with families' wish lists.

"We got at least three outfits and a couple of pairs of pajamas for everybody. And then I would assign the family to someone who came forward, either from my customer group or from my circle of friends," she said. "We did that process with more than 65 people."

She ended up with more families wanting to help than there were families left at the shelter. But the Huckabays still weren't done helping.

"I went to Jackson Street the next day and just went door to door," she said.

Tornado damage or not, people still hadn't left their homes.

"I got to the sweetest family — they had, like, eight people living in their house — and she had just bought the house a few months before that. She did not want to leave the house."

But the house had no electricity. It had water in the basement. And it had a pile of wet clothes on the porch.

"I'm like, 'What are you doing with this?' And she said, 'Well, I guess I'm throwing it away; I have no way to wash it,'" Huckabay recalled. "So I loaded up eight people's worth of dirty laundry in my car and brought it home. I gave four bags to my husband and a couple bags to the neighbors, and we washed and dried all their clothes that evening and brought it back to them."

The memory stuck with her. Huckabay still tears up describing the woman: "She was just crying because she didn't have a washing machine."

Her children had their own ideas of how to help.

"My son said, 'You know, Mommy, after a really big storm, the good news is that there's always a rainbow,'" Huckabay said.

So Henry and Eleanor set out boxes wrapped in rainbow paper at downtown Jefferson City businesses to collect more donations.

Love2Nourish, which was providing food to tornado victims and disaster relief volunteers, sent meals with her to give to residents as she walked Jackson Street.

And the chain reaction that started when the Huckabays left their house May 23 kept going.

"The word just spread so fast about it," Huckabay said. "Friends would text friends who would text friends who would text friends. And now these families are still talking."

Other "Heroes of the Storm"

There were nearly 20 individuals and organizations who received plaques Saturday, Aug. 27, 2019, at a ceremony recognizing them as "Heroes of the Storm" for their actions during the May 22 tornado. Read their stories: 

Laurel Dunwoody, with Love2Nourish,

Steve Barnes, Alan Braun, Gary Braun and Justin Braun, with the Cole County Fire Protection District,

Kevin Riley and family, with Riley Auto Group,

The Salvation Army,

Lorenzo Davis Jr., with Building Community Bridges,

Thorpe Gordon Elementary School teachers,

Derese Herndon,

Zach Paul, with KRCG 13,

Cassie Huckabay,

Melissa Lee,

California Women's Business Council,

Cassie Pruitt, Annie Pruitt,

Doug Schrimpf, with Doug Schrimpf Construction,

Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Larry Linthacum, with Jefferson City Public Schools, and

Andrea and Mitch Koetting.

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