Archived Story

Progress: The Almighty Good

Published 3:30pm Tuesday, March 15, 2011

While West Freeborn Lutheran Church wasn’t hit or damaged at all during the June 17 tornadoes, much of the surrounding area was.

Dale Christopherson, Jane Christopherson, Dennis Frank, Shirley Miller and Curtis Miller pose for a photo in West Freeborn Lutheran Church’s kitchen where they served meals for days after the June 17 tornadoes. -- Kelli Lageson/Albert Lea Tribune

Congregants from the church, like the Christophersons and Millers, wanted to help their neighbors but were unsure how to do so. After one tornado victim mentioned needing bathroom facilities, Dale said he’d use his key to open up the church. Just after that church members thought they’d serve a meal on June 18. The few who started the meals had no idea that more than 50 people would eventually help by volunteering and donating money and food.

The church ended up hosting meals each day for 10 days after the tornadoes.

Jane said she liked being able to see tornado victims, their neighbors, talking with each other so they knew they weren’t the only ones struggling.

Dale said the people whose homes were destroyed didn’t have any power to keep food cold, had no electricity and no running water. The church was kept open so they could use the bathroom, wash up and grab some food. He said as soon as word got around about the meals neighbors starting pitching in.

People visit and eat at West Freeborn Lutheran Church near the end of June after tornadoes devastated much of the country surrounding the church. -- Submitted photo

“Then the food starting coming in,” Dale said.

Shirley said they had to ask people to stop bringing food at one point, because so much had already been delivered. Dennis said he was amazed the church wasn’t harmed, and glad that people could have a place to come that was clean and had resources they needed.

“We’re so glad the church was still here,” Shirley said.

The Sunday after the tornadoes hit the church had already planned a concert and meal, which they still held. Dennis said he invited everyone to take a break from their hard work cleaning up, to come in informal clothes and have some fellowship after the concert over a meal.

People eventually started donating money to the church, which they didn’t need because people were also donating all the food. What they didn’t use for supplies they donated equally to the Freeborn County Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Volunteers said they wanted to help others because they understood the randomness of the tornadoes, and they know it could happen again someday.

The church also advertised that they would collect any found photos, which they are still doing. They encourage anyone to drop off photos they’ve found, and they encourage all tornado victims to look through the photos they have. They’ve reconnected many people with photos and would like to continue to do so.

Heroes: Curtis and Shirley Miller
Base of operations:
near Freeborn
Superpowers: Shirley put together meals, recruited volunteers and helped feed tornado victims at West Freeborn Church last June.
Kryptonite: Shirley described not knowing who all needed help was a struggle. Curtis said it was hard to know where to start when helping people.

Heroes: Dale and Jane Christopherson
Base of operations:
near Freeborn
Superpowers: Dale neglected the cleanup needed at his farm to help neighbors who had been hit worse. Jane helped organize the meals held at West Freeborn Lutheran Church after the tornadoes hit.
Kryptonite: Dale said seeing so much destruction made it overwhelming when trying to help others. Jane said she often didn’t know where to start when trying to help a victim.

Hero: The Rev. Dennis Frank
Base of operations: Hartland
Strengths: Listening, inquiring and finding people
Weaknesses: Dennis said it was often hard to find his congregants because they’d stay with family members and it was hard to ask them questions because they’d talked about the destruction so much.