Yesterday, we profiled two Buffalo Bills players who were helping Joplin, MO get back on its feet after twisters ravaged the city. Punter Brian Moorman's game-worn, autographed jersey is up to $600 on eBay to provide financial relief. David Nelson spent three days helping in the midst of destruction. Following his return to his off-season home in Dallas yesterday, Nelson spent some time with us to explain what he was doing and what called him to Joplin.
"[My girlfriend Kelsi Reich and I] decided to head up there at the last minute," began Nelson. "Saturday afternoon I landed in Dallas after being in Buffalo for a week training with the guys. I had been following the situation on the news and we got back and I didn't have anything to do Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday and neither did she. We just decided it was something we wanted to do and it was available for us. We decided to drive up and help out."
Nelson, who grew up in Texas, doesn't have any special connection to Joplin. His off-season home is in Dallas. He attended Florida. His professional life is in Buffalo. But that didn't stop Nelson when he saw the devastation in Missouri. It also helped that Nelson wasn't at scheduled off-season activities because of the lockout.
"We just saw people in need," explained Nelson. "We'd been following CNN and they'd been giving updates as far as the death toll and people missing and the devastation of all the buildings and houses. I had kind of an idea about what was going on there and knew there was going to be a need for volunteers and for help. It's just a blessing that I had the time to go up there and help out."
While on the ground in Missouri, Nelson put on his work gloves and got dirty.
"We mainly went into the neighborhood that was directly impacted and we helped move debris and rubble from the houses," said Nelson. "Houses completely collapsed and destroyed, and we were just moving the trees and pieces of wood out of the yard, separating them into six different piles. Some of the girls in our group were going through trying to find personal items for the homeowners to keep so they could hold onto those. For the main part we were just clearing the area and the foundation so the bulldozers could come in and and just clear out the entire area."
Nelson was also able to help heal some emotional wounds while not working on the physical ones when talking with some of the victims.
"We went to a high school and spoke at a prayer gathering and talked to some of the high school kids that were affected. But for the most part it was more hands-on work, moving stuff out of the way, trying to clear the area so that the whole process could be expedited."
The disaster put Nelson's life, career, and obstacles in perspective. He said the hardest part was talking to victims he couldn't identify with.
"It was a life-changing experience," admitted Nelson. "I came in there expecting to try to help other people and do what I could and I walked away with a completly different outlook on life. It's something I've appreciated. You hear the cliche when people go through hard times: it could be worse. Well in this situation, for these people, it couldn't get any worse. I was just at a loss for words. You try and talk to these people and you have nothing to say to them. You try to tell them I know how you feel or I feel your pain. But people look at you and say you have no idea what I'm going through. To be a part of that really changed my life and makes me appreciate things I have so much more."
Nelson and Reich, a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, didn't go up with a large group, but instead went on their own and joined a group.
"They had all kinds of different groups; there were church groups up there, obviously the American Red Cross," said Nelson. "I got associated with the United Way because I have a buddy who works for them and we got hooked up with the people up [in Joplin]. We met at Missouri Southern College, which is in Joplin. We met there, hopped on a bus, bussed over to the site that they were going to be at that day and we all got out as a group. One day we had about 250 people and we got divided up. 40 people went to each house. Some guys had bulldozers, some guys had rakes. We went out and were chainsawing the trees. A lot of the debris fell together so you had to cut your way through. We were pulling the big logs out of the way and looking for personal items and trying to separate those out."
Not every relief effort is going towards clean-up, like Nelson's. Services to help volunteers and victims have sprung up all around Joplin provided training to relief workers, and necessities for those without homes.
"There's local churches that are doing a great job," Nelson said. "One of the churches is housing the victims. Another is holding seminars to teach people the proper way to handle people's items and kind of putting you through a crash course in volunteering and then they send you out with the ability to get started."
Nelson wanted to encourage Bills fans and everyone to help out in Joplin. You don't need to board the next flight to help, but there are ways you can donate money to help. | Click here to learn how to donate
"If you want to help the main thing you can do is go and donate," Nelson said. "You really can't go wrong because there are so many people out here helping. They're all needing help. They're all needing resources. They're not going to fight over money or worry about who is getting more money. They are all there to help each other. If the American Red Cross is getting all the money they're gonna help local churches. There really isn't a way to go wrong since we're all there for one common goal."
The mass level of destruction was surreal for Nelson, who posted pictures of destroyed homes, trees, and other buildings.
"It's terrible. Pictures and video do not do it justice," Nelson said. "You can see it but when you get there the overall feeling of it and the atmosphere and the environment all tumbling together makes for a tough, tough situation."