WINDSOR – A group of 10 volunteers stand scraping mud off bricks that once were part of Eric Breniman’s shed. Another 35 volunteers are bent over in his 150-acre field meticulously picking out tiny pieces of debris. Little remains of the farm that took Breniman’s family four generations of sweat and blood to build.
Breniman has been a CSU bookstore employee, and while he hasn’t had a lot to look forward to on his way home from work each day since tornadoes destroyed his Windsor farm May 22, the help of over 300 volunteers has taken some of the sting out of his loss.
On Tuesday, 67 volunteers filed into the Vineyard Church at 1:30 p.m. so they could organize and head out to Breniman’s farm and two other impacted areas.
What was initially an effort to help six families of the church rebuild their homes, has since evolved into a tornado disaster relief effort that has coordinated projects with about 900 volunteers helping victims like Breniman recover. The Monday following the tornado, over 300 volunteers from the Vineyard came to help, and large volunteer efforts are still in the making.
Julie Deener, a liaison for the Vineyard church and leader of the effort, has been heading up projects and making sure volunteers have something to contribute daily. Since the storms hit on May 22, the Vineyard has had at least one volunteer in the most damaged areas, which include Gilcrest, Plateville, West Greeley and Windsor, every day.
The Vineyard has churches spread across the nation who have come ready to be of service. Tuesday, members came from Fort Collins all the way to Missouri to aid in relief as a part of the Vineyard’s IMPACT Youth Conference set at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins.
And Breniman’s farm was on their docket Tuesday. Breniman lost two sheds, a garage, and now lives beneath a partial roof covered with a blue tarp. His 150 acres of corn and alfalfa are full of debris.
He says without the Vineyard’s support, he’d be lost.
“There’s the stuff you just can’t do all yourself,” Breniman said. “I’m only one person . I’m not 40 people.”
Lindsay Black, a 2008 graduate from Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas, came to Colorado as a part of the IMPACT Youth Conference through the Vineyard.
Although helping the people of Windsor wasn’t in the conference’s schedule a few months ago, the group wasn’t hesitant to pitch in.
“Need arose and we’re filling that need,” Black said.
Black was designated as a team leader, and Tuesday her group’s priority was scraping mud off bricks, so they could be used to rebuild one of Breniman’s sheds. While 10 people cleaned bricks, another 35 volunteers combed through the nearby field to get rid of the small pieces of debris.
Black said she understands that although the work they are doing sometimes seems small, it is just as important as any other job.
John Barslund, also a Vineyard member, is retired and has dedicated around 250 hours of his time since the tornado swept through Weld County, and he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“We have to help each other out in these situations,” he said. “People need to work together to get their lives back in line.”
Barslund’s wife, Suzanne, has spent many of her hours coordinating projects, so help from volunteers can be utilized most efficiently. She said many places that have turned down volunteers contacted the Vineyard, and they were able to get them started on a project.
Many CSU students were part of the efforts in Windsor and surrounding areas. Maryann Fillingim, a junior technical journalism major, helped out the Monday after the storm as well as two other days.
“It was cool to see so many people helping out,” she said.
The help came from all over and included many age groups, she said. One day Fillingim said her group consisted of a 16-year-old and a 70-something-year-old.
Fillingim, like hundreds of others, did her best to help out in any way she could, but said when she first saw the tornado’s aftermath the following Monday, it was overwhelming to know where to begin.
“You didn’t know what you could do to help the most,” Fillingim said. “There was so much to do.”
Fillingim and her team started by picking up bigger pieces of trash, and later began the meticulous job of combing through fields where tiny pieces of debris smothered fields and posed hazardous to livestock and crops. Fillingim said she would often find herself going back to the same area several times to pick up small pieces she had missed.
“The willingness of people to do the little things has been such a blessing,” said Suzanne Barslund.
She said while many people want to be a part of the more noticeable efforts, the small tasks like combing through fields are just as important as moving big pieces of debris.
Farmers have to worry about small debris getting into the crops that produce hay and can eventually end up in market food if livestock eat it. On one 40-acre plot of land, Barslund said volunteers picked up nearly 500 pounds of the tiny debris.
The Vineyard’s Deener said she hopes the volunteer efforts will continue going strong. She wants people to realize this is not just a short-term need and hopes volunteers will stay active “until the last person is served,” she said.
Staff writer Kaeli West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.