Helping Reading Recover
While many folks spent the weekend before Memorial Day at the lake or picnicking with friends and family, Andrea Holtf went to Reading, Kansas, to help the residents whose town was almost wiped off the map by a tornado May 21.
Holt, a social worker for Via Christi Behavioral Health, was responding to a call for mental health professionals from
around the state to come touch base with people as they sorted through what little remained of their homes and
possessions, with relatively few outsiders to help. A couple of people in town had suicidal thoughts that worried their
neighbors, Holt said.
"We were intended to be a supportive ear for those who needed it,: said Holt. :In a small town, people are not as apt to say, 'I'm really struggling; I need help.'
"We loaded up with gloves, water and trash bags and just went out to strike up a conversation with people we met. After a while, we'd make sure they were eating and sleeping, had a place to stay and knew what was available to them. There was not much help there for them."
Working with few volunteers, about 75-100 of the 250 residents were up against the inevitability of equipment bulldozing
the debris and what was left of their former lives.
"One little girl I met was 7 years old, the same age as my daughter, Aubrey. I talked with her about how she felt and put her in charge of some stuffed animals I'd brought with me, to share with other kids affected by the tornado,: Holt said. Later she told me there were only nine kids in her class at school this year, and how she hopes there will still be nine next year - not all that likely after the impact the tornado has had on her town."
Kristie Baker, RN, a unit director at Via Christi Behavioral Health Center, said Holt had purchased the stuffed animals at garage sales before she left for Reading.
"I want to celebrate Andrea's efforts," Baker said. "I'm proud of her and the service attitude she has toward others
in need. She certainly exemplifies our Core Values."
Holt said Reading residents still need a lot of help with money, food and clothing. To make a donation, send your check to
United Way of the Flint Hills, 702 Commercial, Suite 2-E, Emporia, KS 66801. Make check payable to United Way
Tornado Relief and designate it: Reading Relief.