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story.lead_photo.caption The caring closet at Eugene Elementary School has received numerous donations to supply families impacted by the May 22 tornado. Photo by Pam Lepper

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The Cole County R-5 Eugene School District and community members have gathered supplies and monetary donations for families impacted by the May 22 tornado.

Within the district, families who lived near Heritage Highway and Lake Carmel Estates were hit the hardest, Superintendent Dawna Burrow said. The district is 12 miles from Eldon and 22 miles from Jefferson City.

A week after the tornado, the district announced it would collect donations in their caring closet and reach out to families who were in need. Within 24 hours, almost $1,000 was raised, Burrow said.

When communicating with families to identify the needs, they found food was not the immediate request. The district purchased Walmart gift cards so those who were displaced could "pick up those little things that nobody ever thinks about," Burrow said.

Last week, Maries R-1 School District contributed to the cause. Eugene Elementary Principal Teresa Messersmith contacted her former colleague, Shanda Schwartze, for an "Eagles helping Eagles" collaboration.

Their district collected tons of supplies during their summer school, which Messersmith made sure got to Eugene families.

The monetary donations collected will be added to those coming from the Iberia R-5 School District, she said.

She described helping those in need close to home as necessary but not easy.

"It's definitely been emotional at times," Messersmith said. "We had a family that came in the had six children in their home that lost their home."

Those funds collected will be used to purchase back to school supplies for students who were impacted.

Having help from within the community and surrounding areas has been an added benefit, officials agreed.

"We can be rivals at basketball or baseball or track, but when it comes down to needs, everybody comes together to support," Burrow said.

The caring closet is located in the elementary building year round to provide backpacks, supplies, winter coats or clothing students may need.

More donations can taken to the central office 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday -Thursday at 14803 Missouri 17. Families in need are also welcome to pick up items at those times or contact the district.

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