Family dynamics are complicated.
Some families revel in togetherness. Others function better with periods of separation. While still others may seem distant, but the familial instinct returns in times of crisis.
The Southern Illinois family is composed of all three models.
There are tight-knit neighborhoods, even entire communities in the region. There are elements of the population who at times seem apathetic to what’s happening in Southern Illinois. And, then there are those who seem to have few, if any, real ties to the region.
But, like all good families, Southern Illinoisans step up when the chips are down. We’ve seen it many, many times — and, quite honestly, too many times in recent years.
Whether it was in the aftermath of the 2009 derecho, the 2012 Leap Day Harrisburg tornado, the 2016 flooding in Alexander County, or this past week when the area pooled resources and came to the assistance of Jackson County residents who had their homes and businesses destroyed by a EF-4 tornado.
The tornado cut a 50-mile swath through Missouri and southwestern Illinois on Feb. 28. The areas most affected by the tornado were Ava, Vergennes and Elkville.
Gov. Bruce Rauner, Illinois Emergency Association director James Joseph and Illinois State Police director Leo Schmitz toured the area with Sen. Paul Schmipf and Rep. Terri Bryant. That’s a lot of dignitaries to visit small towns, but the politicians aren’t the story.
The politicians are simply doing their jobs.
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The real story is centered on volunteers who take time off from their jobs to help their families, their friends and, in most cases, complete strangers. During the course of cleaning up their properties, foraging through debris from family photos and items of little value, but of great sentimental importance, Jackson County residents surely marveled at the kindness of strangers whether it is the nameless person driving through neighborhoods distributing work gloves; the group of Southern Illinois University students volunteering simply because it is the right thing to do; or church groups living out their ministry.
If the experience of Ava, Vergennes and Elkville residents is similar to the people of Carterville, Harrisburg and Olive Branch, they will feel a sense of serenity, wonder and well-being that can only come from the unsolicited kindness of family, friends and most notably strangers.
There really is no way to put into words the feeling of getting up in the morning and seeing volunteers raking shingles or shards of glass from your yard.
The Elkville Baptist Church stepped up to prepare lunches for residents and volunteers working on the cleanup. The Elkville Christian Church provided evening meals. Local businesses also provided food or clean-up services.
Other groups accepted and distributed donations to residents trying to piece their lives back together, one minute, one hour, one day at a time. Anyone who has ever lived through such an emergency knows how important it is to have tarps, cleaning supplies and even fresh water readily available.
Similar services were provided to affected residents of Ava and Vergennes. The volunteers received no monetary compensation, but were richly rewarded with tears of appreciation, heartfelt handshakes and warm hugs.
These scenes are played out entirely too often for those of us who choose to live in this region of volatile weather. But, the truly amazing fact is that these scenes recur after each and every emergency.
When one or more of us are struck by tragedy, the rest of the region coalesces, as if by instinct, to take care of the less fortunate. It is one of the unspoken, unseen benefits of living in Southern Illinois.
To those of you who lost your homes, you have already learned your neighbors have your back. To those of you who lent a helping hand, your kindnesses will never be forgotten within the family that is Southern Illinois.