- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

WASHINGTON, Ill. (AP) - A central Illinois church has become home base for recovery operations in the tornado-ravaged community of Washington, where more than 1,000 homes were severely damaged or destroyed by a tornado last fall.

The Peoria Journal Star reports Bethany Community Church has helped steered more than 6,000 volunteers to help residents rebuild, including groups from New York and Missouri who’ve traveled to the state on charter buses to help with clean up and repairs following the Nov. 17 tornadoes.

The church coordinates everything through an office in an old farm house.

“We love God, we love our community. Why wouldn’t we do it,” said Ben Davidson, associate pastor at Bethany.

The church keeps a database of requests from Washington residents who want helps and then volunteers are matched with projects depending on their availability.

“You could see houses popping up, people rebuilding. It gives the whole place a glimmer of hope,” said Megan Simpson, a Morton resident, is among those volunteering. “It’s a great thing to be a part of.”

Among those heading to the region to help are a group of 120 students from a Minnesota college are spending the week working in Washington and in the tiny eastern Illinois community of Gifford.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports it’s the ninth year students from St. Olaf College have volunteered during the school break to help with disaster relief efforts.

“We realize that we’re part of a national community and we want to do our part and be constructive with our spring breaks,” said senior Andrew Fuglestad of Morehead, Minn.

Davidson said the church has volunteers scheduled for projects through August.

“We’re going to have to decide how much further to schedule in the next coming months,” he said. “It would be great to have the whole town cleaned up by August, but you never know.”

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