DOWAGIAC —The impact of a tornado that ripped through Joplin, Mo., last month tugged at the hearts of dozens of Dowagiac residents 700 miles away.
They watched with horror the images of collapsed buildings and injured people scrambling to find loved ones.
For James Gibson and other members of Victory Tabernacle Church in Dowagiac, Joplin is a sacred place.
The town of about 50,000 people in the far southwest corner of Missouri is the world headquarters of the Pentecostal Church of God, of which Victory Tabernacle is a member.
Several Dowagiac residents and church members have visited the town on various trips, including a bible team that won a national spell bee title there two years ago.
Gibson, youth pastor at Victory Tabernacle, also has visited many times.
"The people are very friendly there," Gibson said. "I always feel at home when I visit. It's very nice."
It's why in the wake of the tornado that killed more than 150 people on May 22, Gibson's first reaction was to help.
Not wanting to sit idly by while so many suffer, Gibson spearheaded a drive in collaboration with Joplin Family Worship Center -- one of four Pentecostal Churches in Joplin and the largest -- to collect specific items for the needy. Joplin Family Worship Center is considered a "hub" in the relief efforts there.
Until June 22, Victory Tabernacle, at 33440 Middle Crossing Road, is collecting pillows, work gloves, socks and new blankets -- items Joplin Family Worship Center has specifically asked for in hopes of assisting the American Red Cross, which will distribute the donations.
One item not being collected is clothes. There has been an influx of clothing sent to the Joplin area since the tornado hit, Gibson said.
So far about 20 pillows, 100 work gloves and 50 socks have been compiled at the Dowagiac site.
"We're also taking hygiene items," he said.
Items can be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. People interested in donating can also contact the church at 269-782-8305 and ask for Gibson.
The church has decided against sending any representatives to Joplin as of now because there have been reports of too many volunteers and supplies coming in, making relief efforts more difficult.
"I don't want to be another mouth to feed," Gibson said.
So the drive is their answer.
Because Victory Tabernacle, out of the 66 branches in Michigan, is located in southwest Michigan, the closest to Missouri, it is being viewed as a regional hub in the relief efforts.