Iowa nice

Lending a helping hand

Jake Sanow, of Ankeny, carries what’s left of a door toward a trailer waiting to take tornado debris to the landfill. Sanow and his family were helping at the home of Ashley and Adam Thomas - whom they do not know - Sunday morning.

Teresa Cowan greeted the Sanow family with tears and a hug Sunday morning.

They aren’t old friends. They don’t even know each other. The Sanows — parents Tim and Traci, and their adult children Jake Sanow and Dema Giardino — drove hours from their homes in Ireton and Ankeny to pitch in after a tornado damaged homes and businesses here Thursday.

The family was among the hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people who’ve found their way to Marshalltown in recent days to help where they’re needed, carrying debris, cutting fallen trees down to size, raking lawns and driving trailers to the landfill.

Pam Iano, of Altoona, drove north to Marshalltown Sunday morning. She was working by herself, raking tree branches, leaves and scraps of shingles to the curb along Bromley Street, just east of Fourth Avenue.

“I just drove this direction,” Iano said of the neighborhood where she was working. “I just came along here, found a place to park and got out with my little rake to do what I could do.”

Next door, at 211 N. Fourth St., the only thing that remains of the home that belongs to Ashley and Adam Thomas is the foundation. On Sunday, more than a dozen volunteers were making treks from the house to the curb, stacking plywood, doors and even an old lawn mower on a trailer. Teresa Cowan, who owned the house for 16 years before selling it to her daughter, Ashley Thomas, tried to put into words what help from strangers has meant to them.

“These people came from four hours away,” she said, gesturing to the Sanows. “We don’t know them from Adam. You have no idea what this means to us. There’s no words. I’ve never ever seen so much selflessness. We are grateful for every board that gets moved. Any person that came from anywhere.”

Many of the volunteers brushed off praise of their generosity, insisting it was the least they could do.

“If I help somebody for an hour that’s an hour less that they’ve got to do,” said Chris Brockman, who lives west of Marshalltown in rural Marshall County. “I’m a very blessed man. I need to be helping other people. The stuff I do need to do at home can wait. These people need help. I’ve got a strong back, I’ve got tools. We’ve got a skid loader coming, we’ve got trailers coming. We’ve got people coming. We can help.”

Marshalltown residents Stephanie and Scot Bauder were hauling debris across yards to curbs Sunday, helping strangers in their community. Stephanie said she’s seen first-hand how the community comes together when help is needed.

“I’m grateful and I’m encouraged by the number of people, but I can’t say surprised,” she said of the volunteers. “I’ve seen this town pull together and do things for people. They’ve supported me incredibly through every trial. So I’m not surprised by this town pulling together, but I am humbled by the number of people that are coming out to do their part.”

In the parking lot at HyVee, Ken Locke — a Salvation Army employee who grew up in Marshalltown and now lives in Warsaw, Ind. — was dispatching volunteers to the areas of town that needed help. The 1975 Marshalltown High School graduate said he arrived in town Saturday night, and checked on his childhood home near Fourth Avenue and Bromley Street.

“It’s not good,” he said.

The tears come when he talks about his childhood here, his love of Marshalltown. The self-professed “Marshalltown evangelist” said he’s proud of his hometown, but the can-do attitude and the spirit of volunteerism isn’t unique to it. He said the Salvation Army encounters the same thing every time it responds to a disaster. It’s bigger than the community.

“I don’t care where you go, Americans are amazing,” Locke said. “We have our problems, but people will step up. They just do.”