Volunteers Help Chicago Tornado Survivors Restabilize Before The Holidays

Midwest  |  December 12, 2021
Tzu Chi volunteers give holiday gifts to local families from the Chicago suburbs who were impacted by the devastating tornadoes of June 20-21. Photo/Dennis Lee

Written by Pheel Wang 
Edited by Maggie Morgan

On November 13, 2021, volunteers from our Midwest Regional Office came together to support locals impacted by the June 20-21 tornadoes that rocked the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. The late evening and early morning storms tore through Naperville, Woodridge, Darien, Burr Ridge, and Willow Springs just before midnight.

The National Weather Service uses the Enhanced Fujita scale (EF) to measure strength and speed  of tornadoes; the scale helps accurately communicate dangers associated with the storm and gives residents the ability to prepare. The NWS documented that the June windstorm is the first serious tornado (rating of EF-2 or more) to strike the NWS Chicago County Warning Area since February 28, 2017, and the first EF-2+ tornado to hit Chicago’s metro counties since June 22, 2015.

The June 20-21 tornado had an E3 rating, landing the destructive gusts in the severe category, and recording wind speeds from 136-165 miles per hour. The Washington Post reported that the twister went on a 17 mile rampage and reached up to three miles into the sky, swirling around fragments of its wreckage.

Rare Storm Wreaked Havoc

The storm reeled in 130 damage reports from Naperville alone, and 22 homes were “deemed uninhabitable”. With significant destruction to the nearby towns of Woodridge and Darien, a total of 225 reports were called in. According to numbers published by PowerOutage.US, 75,000 people in Illinois and nearby Indiana had the wind wipe out their power. While no fatalities occurred, the tornado injured at least 11 individuals in its short but ruinous touchdown.

To allow readers to further understand the strength of this specific storm, The Washington Post article detailed what is known as a QLCS, or a “quasi-linear convective system” tornado. This classification of tornado usually tops out at an EF-1 rating, but the June 20-21 storm was a QLCS EF-3. 

The article noted that an EF-3 intensity coupled with a QLCS is an especially rare storm, and dangerous at that. A May 25, 2019 tornado of this type occurred in El Reno, Oklahoma causing multiple fatalities. Wind gusts with this ferocity are strong enough to hurl around objects weighing several tons.

Rebuilding Stability In Body, Mind, and Soul

Since the tornado occurred in the middle of the night, the majority of residents were able to avoid bodily harm and the storm took no casualties. However, the destruction that occurred left the affected communities in need of assistance in rebuilding their lives and regaining stability.

Tzu Chi has done significant work in the area of tornado relief  and our Midwestern Region volunteers are no strangers to picking up the pieces that a twister leaves behind. Our November 13 distribution event had volunteers offer emergency aid for those carrying the weight of the wreckage following the June 10-21 storm.

Though the storm lasted less than half an hour , months later there were still people who could not return to their homes. 

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation is rooted in ending suffering for beings across the globe, and sometimes that work begins in offering solutions on a smaller scale. Our volunteers know that many issues hit close to home, and they desire connectivity with residents in their region. 

Beneficiaries browsed through Tzu Chi’s spread of offerings, picking out gifts for their loved ones and needed supplies for themselves. PHOTO/ Dennis Lee

Tzu Chi’s mission is not only to alleviate physical strife, but to manifest spiritual well-being in all those they serve. Suffering of any sort affects our mind, body, and spirit. To lend support at this distribution event, our team gave out cash cards for financial relief, eco-blankets for physical warmth, and pocket-sized Jing Si Aphorism books to encourage mental clarity.

Making Spirits Bright

With the holiday season just a month away, Tzu Chi thought it would lift attendants’ spirits to be able to participate in the comforting tradition of gift shopping. A free “mall” was set up for beneficiaries to pick out holiday presents for not only their families and friends, but for themselves as well. Winter gloves, hats, scarfs, hoodies, children’s books and toys were up for grabs as gifts.

Patsy Williams, a local woman impacted by the tornado, appreciated the added activity of “shopping” to the distribution event. She thought she was going to miss out on the beautiful moments that come from giving gifts, but was elated to learn that was not the case.

What a great opportunity, at this time of year, you just seem to know exactly what to offer up. I have small nieces and nephews. I want to be able to give gifts… but how do I do that? Today I am going to be able to do that

Some of the attendees brought back the bamboo piggy banks handed out to Tzu Chi’s beneficiaries. The bamboo banks are a form of encouragement for those in need to eventually give back to another who is suffering. They fill the banks and return proceeds to pay it forward. Michele Moore said that, “To give back always it’s a good feeling, receiving is good but giving back is a rewarding feeling as well.”

Tzu Chi and its volunteers seem to have encounters that touch humanity where it matters most. We all know that philanthropy and charitable giving is an important part of being human, but understanding the intention behind that action is where real meaning is derived from. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation continues to seek out these moments in times of grief in hopes of encouraging others to embody the spirit of compassion.

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