It's been five months since tornadoes hit the Harrison area this spring and well over a year since tornadoes devastated the Apison area in 2011, but a small group of volunteers has helped carry relief efforts through the end of this summer.
"I finally finished my last tree last week," said Ron DeJong, one of those volunteers. "I've been working with JoJo [Macatiag], Doug Walter and Ray [of Open House Volunteers] removing trees, stumps and so on."
The longtime Samaritan Center volunteer and retired engineer said he knew people who were affected by the most recent tornadoes and knew he could help with long-term recovery.
"After the tornadoes there were a lot of volunteers, but when people seem to get back on their feet, then a lot of times the volunteers leave," DeJong said.
He explained that once residents have retrieved all of their belongings from a damaged home, found temporary residence and put their things in storage, volunteers seem to think they may not be needed anymore even though there is a lot left to do in the recovery process. DeJong said even up until last week there was a lot of work left to be done, without many people doing it.
"There are only a handful of us out there so people are surprised when we show up," he said.
When he started helping out five months ago, DeJong didn't know he would be helping for so long, but he was happy to do it, he said.
"The way I view it is it's kind of a pay it forward thing," said DeJong. "Pay it forward for what? It doesn't matter. Putting an expectation on something contaminates the good aspects of it."
He said it's important to recognize that other people contributed much more to the relief efforts than himself.
"People have been working so long and hard since the Apison tornadoes," said DeJong. "When you look at my five months, that's nothing compared to them. I'm just fortunate enough to be comfortably retired. Now it's time to help others."
Now that tornado relief work is winding down, he said he will resume his volunteering at the Samaritan Center, where he works to check and prepare small appliances for resale.
For more information about Open House Volunteers visit www.facebook.com/openhousevolunteers.