Melissa Doyle has spent the last few months looking for work and volunteering her time to help the community. When a neighbor helped her on Saturday, Doyle decided to join a group in a convoy bound for Massachusetts the next day.
Doyle is one of nine men and women who left from the Clifton Park Center Baptist Church on Sunday to aid the town of Monson’s residents who are victims of tornadoes that swept through central Massachusetts last month.
They will be joined by 10 or so other helpers from Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire. They’ll help cut and move trees that fell during the storms.
“We’re going to get people’s places cleared up so they can start living again,” volunteer James Meek said. Meek had been the Clifton Park church’s pastor and an area minister before he retired.
The group is operating through the American Baptist Men’s disaster relief agency, formed in 1997 after floods in South Dakota, local coordinator Art Sabourin said.
The local group traveled to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, to Louisania after Hurricane Rita and has helped New York communities after floods.
The national group has grown to 500 men on the roster, but they are not just limited to who is on the roster. Doyle, not a member of the church, traveled from near Cooperstown Sunday morning.
She was joined by Chris Beckwith from Edmeston, who heard about the group from a member of his local fire department and is part of the Army Reserve.
The nationwide group also has 46 trailers, one of which is located in Clifton Park. Each trailer is specially equiped with the tools needed to deal with disasters in its region. The church has power generators and other tools that are useful in dealing with floods and ice storms, Sabourin said.
The group that left Sunday anticipates returning on Saturday afternoon. Throughout the week the town of Monson will provide them with food and shelter. The group will be staying in an empty municipal building.
Their main objective is to help clear up the fallen trees from the tornado.
“It’s an opportunity to play in a mess. It’s every guy’s dream,” Beckwith said.
Sabourin is a retired truck driver, but has done tree work in the past.
“God has given me a lot of different gifts and lots of different things, and I think it’s my way of giving back,” he said.
Also being donated for the project is a skid steer. Eugene Swackhamer, a former construction worker who did siding and roofing, brought his skid steer, a small tractor that will help move the trees more quickly and efficiently than by hand, saving some of the crew’s energy.
“I’m just a retired fellow,” Swackhamer said. “I help out people that need help.”