Northwestern alum and Chicago Bears cornerback Sherrick McManis grew up in Peoria and has seen severe weather roll through Illinois' Tornado Alley many times before, but up until yesterday, McManis had never experienced firsthand the aftereffects of a devastating storm. He was still shaken today by what he experienced Tuesday in Coal City and Diamond, the epicenter of Sunday's devastation.
"You know, you see the films of it all on television and the pictures in the newspapers, but there's no way to convey how much worse it actually is," McManis said after practice. "The images just give a limited view of things. Looking around in person brings an entirely new perspective. There were places we saw where you couldn't tell what areas had once been houses."
McManis joined teammates Robbie Gould, Blake Costanzo and Zack Bowman, as well as former Bears Anthony Adams, Rashied Davis and Tom Zbikowski in an aid effort that included serving meals, delivering snacks, unloading trucks full of relief supplies and attempting to raise the spirits of those who have lost almost everything.
"What really impressed me was the fact that these people who had so little were still smiling," said McManis. "There was a true sense of community. Everybody was helping out, pitching in to help their neighbors."
McManis was amazed so many residents were eager to meet the Bears players.
"I talked to fans who had been at Sunday's game, and to others who were just tuning in waiting for kickoff when the sirens went off," McManis said. "You'd think with all they have on their minds right now, that football would be completely off the radar. But no, that wasn't the case at all. They wanted to talk about the game, to talk about our team. In retrospect I'm guessing that we provided something for them to think about that did not concern the storm. "
When asked how the trip to the stricken area came about, McManis gave credit to Gould.
"His people contacted me and asked if I'd like to hop on a bus and go down there. It was our day off anyway and I certainly couldn't think of a better way to spend the time. I'm not sure just how much we actually were able to help but at least the residents of Coal City and Diamond saw that we did care and were trying to be of assistance. I think most of the people we met were quite surprised that we came to see them."
McManis' lasting impression was of an area that would experience recovery over weeks and months, not days.
"Where do you begin when your house is a pile of rubble?" McManis asked. "We walked down streets handing out sandwiches to people who were cleaning up. It was surprisingly positive. They were determined to rebuild their lives and help others in their communities."
McManis suggested that anyone who wishes to help in Coal City and Diamond contact the Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region. He noted volunteers were arriving to assist from all over the country.
"I think it's in our nature to want to help when a situation like this occurs," McManis said. "The Red Cross is doing a wonderful job coordinating relief efforts. They do this kind of work all of the time and know how to analyze both needs and solutions."
The Bears organization and Bears Care are partnering with the American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region by holding an online auction of game worn pants and jerseys as well as equipment used in last weekend's game against the Ravens. A luxury skybox offered by the St. Louis Rams in conjunction with the Bears for Sunday's game between these two regional rivals, is also on the auction site. The Bears and Bears Care will match donations and proceeds up to $100,000 to address immediate needs.
To donate or to bid on the items listed, go to www.chicagobears.com/tornadorelief.
"I can't stress enough how badly help is needed there right now," McManis said. "Please consider aiding the Red Cross in any way you can. A small monetary donation or a larger amount would be wonderful. Whatever you can share in this regard will be greatly appreciated by people who are doing the best they can during extremely trying circumstances."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.