By TIM ROWDEN
For 30 years, the members of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268 have collected toys for needy children at the holidays. Most years, the toys are divided between SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
This year, the members decided to send the toys to Paducah, Ky., to help families devastated by storms and tornadoes that swept through the state on Dec. 10. At least 92 people were killed across multiple states after more than 40 tornadoes pummeled a wide area on Dec. 10 and 11 in a storm system that ran from Arkansas into Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois.
The deadly late-season tornado outbreak caused catastrophic damage and numerous fatalities sweeping through northeastern Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
A “long-track” tornado that tore through western Kentucky is believed to have been on the ground for more than 200 miles destroying more than 1,000 properties and killing 76 people.
Six people were killed at an Amazon fulfillment center in Edwardsville, Ill., when a tornado ripped through the middle of the facility.
In Paducah, Ky., Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 184 has opened its training center as a disaster operations center for the hundreds of families devastated by the tornado.
30 YEARS OF GIVING
Local 268 has been hosting holiday toy drives for 30 years.
The collection was lighter this year because of the pandemic, Local 268 Business Manager Bob Stuart said, but there were still enough toys collected to fill a small U-Haul trailer.
With the greatest need in Kentucky, Stuart said, members decided that’s where the toys collected should go this year.
“We figured this is an opportunity this year to take care of the kids down there who have lost everything,” Stuart said, adding that gift cards provided by contractors would be used to purchase additional toys for the donation.
The international United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinkler Fitting (UA) also is providing checks for the relief efforts in Kentucky.
In addition, Stuart said Local 268 is making a donation from its charitable fund to the United Association’s disaster relief fund.
“We don’t do this to get recognition,” Stuart said.” Our members never ask for recognition, but I think they need to be recognized for all of the years they’ve done this.”
The contributions from Local 268 members and contractors have been significant over the years.
“We’ve probably had 500 toys before,” Stuart said.
“One year, I put an email out to the contractors. My wife is a nurse at Mercy and the burn unit wanted to try to figure out how to get the little guys out of their rooms. So she said those Radio Flyers wagons with the rubber tires would work. I put an email out to our contractors, within two weeks we wound up with 23 Radio Flyer wagons and we put them together with our apprentices.
“Our guys step up every time,” Stuart said. “We had a light turnout for our Christmas party this year and they still showed up with enough toys to take to Kentucky.”