The teachers of Thorpe Gordon Elementary School were nominated as "Heroes of the Storm" by the mother of a teacher there for going "above and beyond to help their families, donating many hours and other resources, as well as providing reassurance to their students and families that they would all be safe and secure" after the May 22 tornado.
Thorpe Gordon Principal Christopher Schmitz said he knew something was wrong the night of the tornado because, just before the storm knocked out the electricity at his home, "the alarm company called and said basically, 'all the alarms are going off at school.'"
After the storm passed, Schmitz said, he got in his car to go check out the school, but could not determine anything about the building's condition until the sun came up with the power out and with roads blocked by trees, downed power lines and other debris.
However, tending to the school's families started immediately, still in the darkness, and that response continues.
"Most of us have parents' phone numbers already in our cellphones, so a lot of us were just calling anybody who we could think of. It really didn't matter what time it was. I know I was talking to people at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning, just making sure they were OK," behavior interventionist Rhonda Allen said.
"First was, 'Was everyone OK?' (Then) it kicked into a different perspective of 'Now, what are we going to do to help people?'" Schmitz said.
The morning of Friday, May 24, dedicated to having summer school on site, "We as a team called every single person we thought was going to come to summer school" and asked them if they were OK and what they might need help with, secretary Sarah Wilkinson said.
School nurse Alicia Edmonson said she was at Hy-Vee and still awake when she found out a shelter was being set up at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, so she bought pet food and baby supplies and went there.
"People also gave their own money to families — putting them up in hotels, buying personal supplies. I went and visited a family at a hotel, and it really hit me whenever she said, 'We don't even have underclothes on.' That's when it kind of hit me, 'OK, that's where we need to start, is like just the basic stuff.' People just did what needed to be done," Allen said.
Edmonson said she knows other staff who took children from the shelter to the movies or out to eat.
"I think it was important to give them a sense of normalcy, to feel something familiar with all the chaos going on — not having to think about 'What's happening to my stuff, where am I going to sleep, is everything going to be OK?' A lot of kids had a lot of anxiety," Edmonson said.
"We were doing a lot of counseling this summer," Allen said.
"No one had to be asked to do anything. They just did it because it was the right thing to do," Schmitz said, adding the staff of Lawson Elementary School collected $710 in gift cards for the cause.
The physical damage from the tornado to Thorpe Gordon's building was blown-out or cracked windows, with the biggest thing being "a lot of water, because the roof had significant damage. There were a lot of wet classrooms, and then ceiling tiles, with the pressure changes, were sucked up in the ceiling," Schmitz said.
Thorpe Gordon's staff and other volunteers responded quickly to that, too.
"The whole team got over here and came into a powerless, kind of wet, stinky building and got it ready for summer school within hours," Wilkinson said.
Allen said a lot of strangers have also offered support.
"One of the last days of summer school, somebody just came in off the street, and they're like, 'Here's $200.' That really kind of, for myself, renewed my faith in mankind," she said.
The Thorpe Gordon staff said most of the money they and others raised was funneled into disaster relief agencies.
Some of what's left will be used for a "Gordon Gives" event from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 7, instructional coach Shelley Kleene said. At the event, a meal contributed by staff will be provided for all Thorpe Gordon families, along with collected clothing — infant through adult — and hundreds of books, Kleene said.
Resources including counseling and referrals to United Way services will be available at the event, along with snow cones, Allen added.
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: