Stanley community response after tornado “restores your faith in humanity”

Days after a tornado hit Stanley, Wisconsin, the clean up and power restoration efforts continued.

Story & Photos by Dan Schillinger, American Red Cross

“This is what neighbors do.” 

That was Jeff Sauer’s reaction to the outpouring of help that flooded into his hometown of Stanley, Wisconsin, population 3,608, in the aftermath of a very rare December tornado. Hundreds of people from all over western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota came to the town to help clean up, feed displaced residents and restore some sense of normalcy.

The American Red Cross was part of those efforts, supporting a shelter for residents displaced or dealing with power outages, one of a handful of disaster relief operations around Wisconsin this week following a round of powerful winds and sporadic tornadoes. Sauer came from nearby Thorp and spent two days driving around Stanley, stopping to help residents clear downed trees and pick up debris.

One of the homes walloped by an EF2 tornado that touched down in Stanley, among a handful that touched down in Wisconsin in mid-December.

Red Cross volunteers Mike and Cathy Stevens came from New Richmond to help. Mike spent part of Friday doing assessments of the approximately 10 homes heavily damaged from the storms. Meanwhile Cathy, worked at a local shelter, helping to feed people. 

“It restores your faith in humanity,” said Cathy Stevens, a retired nurse, as she looked out on a roomful of volunteers. 

Mike and Cathy joined the Red Cross as volunteers four years ago, after Mike retired from a construction business he owned for over 40 years. He described the response to the disaster as “unbelievable.” Like many others, Mike says he joined the Red Cross as a way of giving back to his community. He says it’s been a rewarding experience.

Edit Krueger, left, a resident of Stanley, was grateful for the outpouring of support for her and her hometown by people like Red Cross volunteer Cathy Stevens.

Edie Krueger has worked as a teacher in Stanley for over 40 years. She says the damage to her town “shook me to my core.” She saw people coming to the shelter with tears in their eyes. But she’s also seen the strength of her neighbors, as they work to clean up the damage and put the town back on its feet in time for Christmas. 

The city of Stanley set up a shelter for residents late Wednesday night at a community center in Chapman Park and Red Cross volunteers helped operate the shelter in the subsequent days. Outside of the handful of residents who stayed at the shelter, meals were served – including 300 for residents on Thursday alone – and on Saturday numerous service and government agencies gathered to provide assistance, resources and referrals to residents affected by this freak storm. 

Red Cross volunteer Mike Stevens serves meals at a community center-turned-shelter after the December storm.

Red Cross volunteer Dave Nelson said he and his colleagues will remain as long as it takes to help residents in Stanley get back up on their feet. Like the others, Nelson has been struck by the willingness of complete strangers to come together to help each other in the wake of the disaster.

You can join our Disaster Action Team volunteers in community relief responses just like this one. Find out more and sign up at redcross.org/DAT.

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