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story.lead_photo.caption <p>Rebecca Martin/News Tribune</p><p>Melissa Lee coordinated efforts to provide food for residents in the Heritage Highway area south of town after the tornado.</p>

Response was swift in Jefferson City after the May 22 tornado, as volunteers and donations flooded damaged areas to help provide food, water and other resources as residents began picking up the pieces.

But many, including Melissa Lee, didn't know as quickly the extent of damage and need outside the city limits.

Lee realized it a couple of days after the storm when she spoke with a friend who lives along Heritage Highway just south of Jefferson City off U.S. 54.

"They had not slept in two days; their food was running out and the money to go get food," Lee recalled. "Apparently, there were neighbors that were going to get food for everyone around them. There were food stations and things like that set up in Jefferson City, in town, but the folks here were afraid to leave their homes because they didn't have police protection."

She got to work immediately that Friday afternoon, collaborating with another friend to bring hot meals to the parking lot of Dollar General on Heritage Highway.

Then, Kevin Kohler, pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church just behind the store on Heritage Highway, offered the church's parsonage as a place for them to stage two hot meals a day along with shower and laundry facilities and distribution of other donated items — toiletries, pet food, you name it.

"By this time, Love2Nourish contacts us and they say, 'We're sending out 50 meals.' Then we start having other mom-and-pop restaurants in the area showing up with food," Lee said. "What started out as two meals a day wound up being more food than we knew what to do with."

But while her friend was comfortable coming up the road to pick up food, not everyone was initially.

"These people had just had something horrendous happen," Lee said. "They still were not quite there yet with coming up here."

So her friend's family helped coordinate home deliveries from volunteers.

"We didn't just go out there and just start, you know, taking food out," she said. "This was before there had been any clearances or anything, but we had hungry people."

They started learning residents' direct needs, and volunteers worked quickly to answer them.

"I could say, 'Hey, we have a need for a men's size 32x34 jeans; he needs boots,' and they would go and get them. Other times, I could be standing there reading off what some of the needs were, and they would literally come and have whatever that was in their hand," Lee said.

"What started so, so small just blew up, and that's because of this community. My part in it was very, very small."

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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