Surprise delivery to victims hit hard by tornado in rural East Moline

EAST MOLINE, Illinois — Peace Lutheran Church and Living Lands and Waters donated oak trees to residents of the Evergreen Village area whose properties were hit hard by an EF-2 tornado earlier this year.

"It's going to be regrowth from the damage that was done," said Bob Smith, one of a handful of volunteers distributing the trees on Saturday.

The project started when a member of Peach Lutheran Church in Port Byron, Illinois donated money to go towards people impacted by the tornado on the evening of March 15, 2016.

Smith, also a member of the church, came up with the idea that the money go towards buying trees to give residents. Smith contacted Chad Pregracke of Living Lands and Waters, who also liked the idea of gifting trees.

"Between church and Chad they got together and provided the trees and we're here today to distribute them to the victims of the storm, and as a neighborhood we'll watch them all grow together," said Smith, a paint contractor at James A. Smith Painting in East Moline.

It seems fitting; the neighborhood that lost countless trees together, checked on the well-being of neighbors together, and rebuilt their homes together, would plant something in their yards as a symbol of regrowth, strength, and perseverance.

Bob and his wife Laurie Smith delivered a Burr Oak and Swamp White Oak to homes in the Evergreen Village.

They also had help from their 11-year-old grandson, Mike Smolenski.

"They've been saying, 'thank you, we lost a lot of trees'," said Smolenski, who helped load-up dozens of trees in the back-end of two trucks before distributing them with Tom and Pauline Tomlinson.

Smith says residents' appreciation for the surprise donation has been "amazing".

"They've been more than appreciative. We expected them to have a thank you, but it really seems to move them," said Smith, whose lived in the East Moline area his whole life.

"Well that's very surprising," said Robert "Tim" Canny, who lives in Evergreen Village, moments after he received his trees.

Canny, who takes pride in keeping his yard nice, wasn't expecting the delivery. Prior to Saturday's surprise delivery, he'd thought about buying trees to replace the ones he lost in the tornado.

"I had two trees that the community bought for me when my mother died, so I thought about going out and getting a couple more to replace them, but it looks like they done that for me," said Canny, getting choked-up.

A total of 150 trees were donated; Bob and Laurie Smith offered to help recipients plant the trees when they dropped them off on Saturday October 15, 2016.