HANCOCK COUNTY — When a tornado touched down Sunday in Greenwood, Jim Snellenberger was glued to the news, anxious to help.
The Greenfield man was taught at an early age to always lend a hand to those in need.
“Proverbs 3:27 says to never look away from someone who needs help,” said Snellenberger, who recently created a new nonprofit — Disciples of Joy for Disaster Relief — to help those who need it most.
He runs the nonprofit through the Indiana Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s service organization.
His goal is to secure and fill four or five warehouses throughout the state with enough bottled water, clothing and tools to deliver wherever it is needed at a moment’s notice. So far he’s secured one warehouse in Osgood, Ind., and is seeking local and corporate donations to secure more.
“I want to stock up on mops, buckets, rakes, generators, chainsaws — whatever you might need in the face of floods, fires and other disasters. I want to make this a one-stop shop for disaster relief,” said Snellenberger, who also hopes to build a database of volunteers.
Disciples of Joy will host a gala at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds next month to raise money for the efforts.
Snellenberger hopes to raise at least $325,000 through ticket sales, a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle.
The business casual event is 6-10 p.m. July 22 at the fairgrounds in Greenfield, where former Channel 8 meteorologist Randy Ollis will serve as guest speaker.
Each $65 ticket includes an authentic Greek meal catered by Costas Stylianou, owner of Lincoln Pancake House and Costa’s Grill in Greenfield. Beer and wine will also be available.
Entertainment will be provided by Roy Geesa and the Cool City Band, which Snellenberger said is reminiscent of the Benny Goodman Orchestra.
“They really bring it. We want to see everyone out there dancing and having a good time,” said Snellenberger, who is no stranger to throwing a good party.
The retired businessman has led a number of political campaigns, and considers himself a natural-born organizer.
“I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of person,” he said.
Bill McDonald, disaster relief coordinator for the Indiana Knights of Columbus, reached out to Snellenberger — a longtime Knights of Columbus member — to tap into this fundraising expertise, which he hopes will result in consistent funding for statewide disaster relief efforts.
“We’ve been doing disaster relief since 2012, and basically the hardest part is getting funding for the missions. Jim’s come up with Disciples of Joy to alleviate that problem, and we’re hoping these fundraising efforts will help us better respond to disasters when needed because we’ll be financially secure,” said McDonald, who hopes to eventually expand the program throughout the state.
Snellenberger named Disciples of Joy based on an acronym for JOY he learned in college — Jesus, Others, Yourself — which has served as a constant reminder ever since.
“You just need to keep it in that order, every day of your life,” he said.
He credits his parents for teaching him the value in helping others, which he witnessed firsthand when they welcomed seven other families into their home after nearly 50 tornadoes swept through the Midwest on Palm Sunday 1965.
It was the fourth deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history and the deadliest of all outbreaks in Indiana, where 137 people were killed and over 1,200 injured by 10 tornadoes during the late afternoon and evening.
“We were on propane and their houses were on electric, so we all squeezed into our two-bathroom, 1,400-square-foot home,” recalled Snellenberger, who remembers the storm rolling in as he and his friends played baseball in his hometown of Kendallville.
He never forgot how good it felt to help others in need, and continued that lesson into adulthood.
Fifteen years ago, when a tornado decimated the Falcon Point apartments on the east side of Indianapolis, Snellenberger loaded up his vehicle with 50 cases of water and wheeled a two-wheel cart around the complex, offering to help whoever he could.
Last July he helped organize a local relief effort to send supplies to those struck by catastrophic flooding in eastern Kentucky and central Appalachia, which killed 38 people and washed away hundreds of homes and businesses.
Snellenberger witnessed first-hand that it took several days for relief supplies to make it into the affected areas. That’s why he hopes the Hancock County community will be motivated to fill the Disciples of Joy storage spaces and volunteer to help whenever and wherever disaster strikes, whether it’s close to home or further away.
“I know there are others out there who would love to help Hancock County in our time of need, so we should be ready to help others when they need our help,” he said.
He encourages those who can’t attend the July 22 fundraising dinner to consider donating money on the Disciple of Joy website, or signing up to volunteer for disaster relief trips or local prep work.
“Some people think they may not have the talent to help, but that’s not true. We will train you,” said Snellenberger, who recalled some volunteers who helped flood victims last year simply by cutting old sheets into rags for cleanup efforts.
For more information, or to support or attend the July 22 dinner, visit DisciplesOfJoy.org.