Crystal Lake resident Joan Clark thought the tornadoes had missed her sisters and nephew living downstate as she followed the storm coverage Sunday on TV.
It wasn’t until a phone call from her brother-in-law that she learned Washington, near Peoria, had taken a direct hit from a tornado with the preliminary designation as an EF-4, the second-strongest rating.
Clark's two sisters and nephew live within a mile and a half of each other in Washington – three of at least 900 central Illinois homes either destroyed or damaged by the devastating storms that spawned at least 15 tornadoes and killed at least six people.
“I immediately tried to call them when I found out what had happened, and no one answered,” said Clark, who grew up in Metamora, a town just north of Washington that was spared by the devastating storms. “My sister finally texted me back and called a short time later. Everyone was safe, but they lost everything.”
Fifteen counties have state disaster declarations, and Federal Emergency Management Agency workers have begun initial damage assessments.
Clark, a Crystal Lake District 47 middle school teacher, traveled to Washington this week to reconnect with family members affected by the storms and help with recovery efforts. They all are staying in hotels or with other family members in the area, spending most of their time salvaging items from the rubble that was once their homes.
A web page has been created to donate to the families at www.youcaring.com.
The fundraising effort is one of many taking place statewide to aid tornado victims. In McHenry County, several opportunities are available for residents to donate.
Three District 47 middle schools are collecting coins in each homeroom until holiday break to raise money for recovery efforts. The homerooms that raise the most money will be rewarded with pizza parties, and the money will go directly to helping those in need.
The response from students has been positive, collecting as much as $200 in one day, said Lori Sorensen, principal at Bernotas Middle School.
“We are off [school] most of next week and wanted to do something quickly,” Sorensen said. “We would have done something regardless, but having a personal connection hits home for all of us.”
The Spanish Club and Spanish National Honor Society at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake hosted an event Wednesday similar to the Amazing Race. The Crystal Lake District 155 high school raised about $1,025 that will be donated to relief efforts.
The Gator Link Crew at Crystal Lake South High School is hosting a bake sale Dec. 7 to raise money for the tornado victims. The event will be from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the school, 1200 S. McHenry Ave., during the "Day of Hoops."
The proceeds will be donated to Clark's extended family.
The Salvation Army of McHenry County is accepting monetary donations that will directly go to help those in need in Washington.
The nonprofit is not asking for items to be donated due to the travel distance to Washington, which is about 155 miles from Crystal Lake. The group also has staff members helping in the affected areas.
“We are collecting donations so the money can be used real-time for what their greatest needs are,” said Linda Hunter-West, spokeswoman for the organization. “The money is really going to be put toward what the needs are at this particular moment.”
Donations can be dropped off at the Crystal Lake office, 290 W. Crystal Lake Ave., or online at www.salarmychicago.org/mchenry.
Besides accepting donations, several other organizations and schools are collecting items to send to the Washington area.
Chesak Elementary School in Huntley District 158 is collecting donations of essential items for everyday needs to help with rebuilding efforts, including gift cards. One of the teachers at the school has family members who were affected by the tornadoes, and she will be traveling there this weekend to help with cleanup efforts and to deliver the donations.
Students and staff at Marlowe Middle School and Huntley High School are collecting donations of clothing, personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies that will be delivered to the Washington area this weekend by a Huntley High School student and her family.
The Spring Grove Fire Protection District will also be sending firefighters down to the Washington area to deliver supplies.
Crews are accepting bottled water, gently used clothing, blankets and nonperishable food items at the station, located at 8214 Richardson Road.
“We’re trying to collect as many items as we can,” Lt. Kevin Young said. “One of our guys has a contact at their fire department, and we want to help.”
Two Wauconda women without any ties to the devastation are accepting donations from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday at Boehmer Automotive, 416 W. Liberty St., Wauconda.
The friends are looking for garbage cans, rakes, shovels, nonperishable food items, cleaning supplies, toiletries and pet items, among other things.
They plan on heading to Washington to deliver the items Sunday.
“They have been totally wiped out down there,” Pam Blake said. “That is why we will take any and everything.”
For information, call 815-509-7704.
Two McHenry women are collecting donations for those affected by the storms. Chrissy Riemann and Cindy Gottstein are collecting toothbrushes, trial size toothpaste, trial size mouthwash, bottled water, snacks, trial size wipes, trial size shampoo, trial size lotion, cotton swabs, trial size deodorant and bandages.
"We just wanted to do it," Reimann said. "It's so close to home here in Illinois."
Reimann and Gottstein are making care packs with those items and hope to make 100 packs.
• Reporter Joseph Bustos contributed to this article.