DeKalb police help tornado victims

By Deanna Frances

On Nov. 26, employees and volunteers of the DeKalb and Sycamore Police Departments visited the towns of East Peoria and Washington, Ill., where tornadoes destroyed more than 1,000 homes and left one dead and many injured Nov. 17.

The tornado disaster relief effort began with Jill Caldwell, DeKalb Police Department dispatcher. Caldwell and her husband, Officer Brad Caldwell of the Sycamore Police Department, decided they wanted to help with the relief efforts in Washington and the surrounding areas.

Caldwell said she began by asking friends and neighbors for donations she could bring to the devastated areas. Friends and colleagues at the DeKalb Police Department offered to help and began putting flyers up.

Over the course of two days, the DeKalb Police Department received more than $2,500 in gift cards and cash donations to give to the American Red Cross and were given enough materials to pack three trailers and an ambulance full of supplies.

“It turned out a lot bigger than we thought it would be,” Caldwell said. “We had no idea that we would have to haul three trailers down to Washington.”

Caldwell said the entire project was a group effort at the DeKalb and Sycamore Police Departments. Items that were donated to the effort included winter clothing, children’s clothing, canned goods, water, animal food and care items, linens and storage totes.

“It was very humbling to see the outpouring of members of the community and local businesses wanting to be involved,” Caldwell said. “Tool Time [DeKalb store] even went out and bought 30 brand-new winter coats of all sizes and donated a trailer to help us take everything down to Washington.”

Nine officers, volunteers and retired employees from DeKalb and Sycamore Police Departments gathered to drive to Washington and East Peoria to distribute the donated items. The group was able to deliver the donated items to the First United Methodist Church of East Peoria with the help of members of the East Peoria Fire Department.

The First United Methodist Church has been working as the local food pantry and has been giving shelter to victims of the tornadoes. Donated goods that are brought to the church are being distributed to those in need, said Sharon Johnston, an employee of the First United Methodist Church.

“We will get calls from other local shelters, and we send over items that they need,” Johnston said.

Victims of the disaster have been working diligently to recover from the tornado, said Illinois State Trooper Miles Walsh, a resident of Washington and victim of the disaster. Walsh had recently moved into a home in Washington with his wife and two children when the tornados hit the Midwest.

“This house was the house I never thought I’d have. It was so perfect,” Walsh said.

Walsh said on the day of the disaster, the tornado sirens went off very briefly, and that concerned him. Walsh went over to retrieve his in-home police radio and heard the city was under a tornado warning.

“I went down into the basement with my son, and all of a sudden, I looked up and my house had just disintegrated,” Walsh said. “I just saw the dark sky and very fine debris.”

Walsh said after confirming he and his 8-year-old son were safe, he ran for his squad car so he could call for help on the radio, but his two squad cars were not where they had been parked.

“My squad cars had been smashed together and thrown into my backyard,” Walsh said. “I climbed over them to reach my radio, and there were just tiny shards of glass everywhere.”

Walsh said that after calling for help, he looked around and realized his entire neighborhood had been hit by the tornado. Walsh went to local homes to check for survivors and injuries.

Walsh said he and his wife contemplated moving elsewhere and buying a home in another location instead of rebuilding in Washington, but have decided to stay and rebuild after seeing the large response of positive actions amongst the community and volunteers that have come to help with relief efforts.

“I’m never leaving,” Walsh said. “I haven’t lived here for very long, but these people are so important to me.”

Walsh said the relief efforts and outpouring amount of support from others has kept the entire city going. Responders have acted as clean-up crews, cooks and shelters for the victims, and have donated countless amounts of goods and funds.

“The week of the tornado, our high school boy’s football team was playing an away game, and the other team sent charter buses to pick up the team and the fans that wanted to come to the game, and they even fed the boys a meal after the game,” Walsh said. “The support from everyone has just been overwhelming. If you are a victim and haven’t received support, then you need to just look for it because it’s out there.”

Walsh said the recent events have inspired the entire city of Washington to keep pushing forward through the disaster.

“Digging in, digging out and pushing forward. That is my new motto for Washington,” Walsh said. “Because that’s what everyone is doing: Getting down to business and pushing forward.”