Tornado Damaged Neighborhoods Receive a Gift – 1,000 Trees

When tornadoes tore through the western edge of Arlington in April, Cristina and James Barron came out relatively unscathed, unless you count a blown-to-bits security fence and parts of a roof from nearby St. Barnabas United Methodist Church that somehow made its way to their back yard.

Everything was fixable, except for their 60-foot Chinaberry tree, which was lifted from its roots and tossed across the yard.

On Saturday, something was done about that, too, thanks to a small army of volunteers, who not only showed up toting shovels to plant a Texas Red Oak near the spot where the shady Chinaberry once stood but to plant three more trees on their property as well.

In fact, volunteer crews fanned out across southwest Arlington that morning to restore trees lost to the tornado. The Barrons registered for the trees as part of Re-LEAF Arlington, which allowed residents living in the tornado impact zone to receive up to four free 10-gallon trees.

By noon 1,000 trees – Red Oaks, Mexican-buckeyes, Live Oaks, Cider Elms, Desert Willows, to name a few – had been planted, thanks to a $40,000 donation by the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation and contributions from businesses like Lowe’s.

More than 500 homes and apartments, largely between Arkansas Lane and U.S. 287/Sublett Road and between Perkins and Kelly Elliott roads, were damaged when winds estimated at 135 mph roared through the city.

While fences and roofs and windows were gradually fixed, what the Barrons and their neighbors noticed most was how different the neighborhood “felt” without a number of its trees.

“You don’t think much about it until it’s gone,” James Barron said.

Trees deliver benefits from air pollution removal, water quality, reduces runoff from storms, adds property values, saves on energy bills and provides shades, Pete Smith of the Texas A&M Forest Service said during the event that was also attended by Mayor Robert Cluck and other City officials.

“But its real power is giving us a sense of community,” he added. “There’s something about trees that says we’re home.”

Hundreds of people, from elementary aged students to adults representing companies, made up the 20- to 25-person crews that descended on homes, splitting into smaller units to dig holes and plant trees. Residents who weren’t at home returned to see trees sitting on their lawns, ready for planting.

“Arlington always turns out to help each other and we saw it immediately on the day of the tornado,” said District 2 City Council Member Sheri Capehart. “Here we are six months later, and you haven’t forgotten them. You are back to help again.”

Volunteer Lori Onjukka was among a contingent of co-workers from Texas Power.

“The storms on the East Coast had a devastating effect but we can’t do a whole lot about that,” she said. “So it feels good to be able to do something for our neighbors right here.”