Still reeling from the storm that leveled more than 1,000 homes, relief organizers were overwhelmed with donations of supplies and an outpouring of volunteers, and asked the Plainfield group to return in the weeks that followed.
Led by Plainfield Police Chief/Plainfield Emergency Management Agency Director John Konopek and Deputy Fire Chief Jon Stratton, area first responders made good on their promise this month, bringing a contingency of volunteers to help with ongoing cleanup efforts on Nov. 30.
Their mission was to help property owners who are still unable to get inside their destroyed homes.
"We ended up cleaning three properties completely," tearing down the remains of homes and covering damaged roofs with tarps to keep the weather out, Konopek said. The first responders also retrieved personal items — from photo albums to money — for residents who could not get back inside their homes.
Konopek said the group of 58 volunteers included Plainfield police and firefighters, Oswego fighters, Tinley police and fire, the Woodridge police chief and emergency responders from Will, Kendall, Grundy and DuPage counties.
"They said we had the largest contingency to date," Stratton noted.
Konopek said the group's efforts were aided by the generosity of donors including Plainfield School District 202 and First Student, who loaned the contingency a bus for the trip.
Beverage distributor Diageo donated money to purchase supplies needed for the trip. The company has also teamed with first responders in Plainfield to provide police and firefighters in Washington with equipment, Konopek said.
"We're working with police and fire to see what the needs are in Washington," he said.
The Plainfield police and fire unions also offered assistance, along with the Joliet Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 58, which provided garbage bags and cleaning supplies for the trip, according to Konopek.
While Washington and other tornado-affected communities have been overwhelmed with donations of supplies, the need for volunteers continues.
"It's still a mess," Stratton said. "It's taking time to go through every dwelling."
While the temperatures was in the 50s during the contingency's Nov. 30 visit, Konopek said the ongoing cleanup efforts could be hampered by the recent winter weather.
"I can't imagine what it is like now that there's snow on the ground," he said.
Right now, donations of money and gift cards are especially needed in tornado-affected areas, Konopek said.
For information on where and how to make donations, or to arrange to volunteer, check out the Central Illinois Emergency Information Facebook page.
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