Iowans head to Illinois to help with tornado recovery - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowans head to Illinois to help with tornado recovery

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Volunteers are pouring into central Illinois right now, and that includes Red Cross volunteers from Iowa.

The towns worst hit by tornadoes are not allowing volunteers in unless they're sent by a credentialed organization like the American Red Cross.

Ken and Ann Opatz left Monday afternoon for Peoria, Ill. That's where the Red Cross is sending all its volunteers to help keep things organized.

The Opatzs will then be sent to wherever they're needed most, and the couple can't wait to help. They decided to volunteer for the American Red Cross after they retired -- him from the Iowa National Guard, her from Cornell College.

"My husband and I were looking for something meaningful to do during our retirement years," said Ann Opatz.

For two years, the Lisbon couple has been watching disaster coverage, waiting for the call telling them their help is needed.

That call came Monday morning, and the two packed their bags and got ready to help with tornado recovery efforts in central Illinois.

"We've been trained by the Red Cross to be ready to go at pretty much a moment's notice, and we've been looking forward to this opportunity and we're excited to go to help these people," said Opatz.

The couple has been through Red Cross training and has helped locally, the type of volunteers the Red Cross always has a need for.

"We respond locally to house fires, that kind of thing," said Nick Jost, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager. "That's always something that we respond to."

Through those experiences, the Opatzs have gotten the hands-on training they'll need in Illinois. They'll be taking an emergency response vehicle and will use it to get food and water to those who need it.

"We have all the comforts of life and the people we're going to help don't have those things right now," said Ann. "Whatever minor sacrifices we need to make along the way, we're happy to do that."

The Opatzs are scheduled to be in Illinois for about two weeks.

They did not bring down collected donations like clothing or bedding. That's because the Red Cross says those items are not helpful at this time, because organizations are still assessing the need there.

Officials with the Red Cross say the best thing you can do to help right now is donate money. The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army are both collecting monetary donations.

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