When we were united, not long ago.

For many people, the neighborhood they live in creates the foundation of their social structure. It’s not just their place of residence. It’s where your friends live, it’s where your kids live. The neighborhood is one of the most important factors in everyone’s day-to-day life. However, just a few short years ago, our neighborhoods here in Jefferson City suffered some serious damage. 

On the evening of May 22, 2019, a category EF-3 tornado ripped through Jefferson City, cutting a swath of destruction through our town. The storm system’s winds reached 160 mph, killing three people statewide and leveling several areas of our Jefferson City neighborhoods. 

I remember driving through town the next day. Buildings were without roofs, trees were in the street, and peoples’ furniture and clothing were strewn around on lawns. Power lines and signs were crushed; vehicles were flipped over. It was a devastating sight. 

As hard as it was to see all that property damage, it was worse to see the human toll. Every ravaged building or vehicle represented someone or some family without a home or transportation. Destroyed businesses and office buildings meant people were out of work. You could see them that morning walking through the rubble that had been their homes, taping plastic over the broken windows of their automobiles or picking through the splintered remains of their homes. What had been neighborhoods now looked more like war zones. 

It’s easy to feel despair at times like that. Not knowing where you’ll sleep that night. Not knowing if you’ll ever be able to come back to your home. It surely weighs on people. However, the people of Jefferson City showed us who they were in the aftermath of that storm. They were the good neighbors this city needed. 

Immediately, first responders and neighbors began helping those in need. They combed through downed buildings to free people trapped by the damage to their homes. About 20 people were rescued, and no one went missing. Door-to-door checks were conducted to make sure everyone was safe. Food and water were distributed. Churches and hospitals helped treat and house those left homeless in the storm’s immediate aftermath. 

Everyone pulled together to care for their friends and neighbors. In the ensuing weeks and months, our community continued to take care of each other. Habitat for Humanity helped build new homes. Jefferson City was given a federal recovery grant to help us recover. 

Although the first thing you probably think about when you think about neighborhoods are the houses and parks around you, the real heart of your neighborhood is the people. Just look at the people here in Jefferson City pulling together in the wake of catastrophe and looking out for their friends and loved ones. 

That’s what it means to be a neighbor and the people in Jefferson City exemplify that. Through tornadoes or any other challenge, our neighbors continue to make this not only a great city, but a great neighborhood.

Senator Mike Bernskoetter took office in 2019, serving the 6th Senatorial District, and also serves as a lector and Eucharistic and hospitality minister at Immaculate Conception Parish.