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PENDLETON – The town’s ongoing recovery from last year’s devastating Memorial Day tornado has been shadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but the volunteers who fanned out across Falls Park and nearby neighborhoods Saturday were determined to show that the community remains resilient in the face of any challenge.

Volunteers began showing up bright and early at the Falls Park office to pick up trees to plant. A total of 29 teams – about 150 volunteers total – registered to participate. Pickup times were staggered throughout the morning to avoid large numbers of people congregating at the same time.

“It’s just phenomenal that so many people are here helping us recover from the tornado,” said Sue Patton, an administrative assistant with the South Madison Community Foundation. “Everybody just wants to embrace and help plant trees and bring back that canopy that got blown away.”

The town was awarded a Community Tree Recovery grant from the Arbor Day Foundation for 200 trees to be planted on residential properties, with another 100 trees at Falls Park. During Saturday’s effort, officials expected 179 trees to be planted at 165 homes in addition to the saplings at the park.

The park in particular was ravaged by the tornado, losing dozens of majestic trees that helped make the property a favorite destination for picnickers, cyclists, joggers and families as well as a hub of community activity. The trees planted Saturday will take decades to grow to the stature of their predecessors, but some volunteers said that in itself is a valuable lesson.

“There’ll be picnics out here,” said Mel Campbell, who brought several members of a youth group from a church in New Castle to participate. “There’ll be family gatherings, there’ll be reunions, and these guys will have a small part in making that a good event for those families that’ll come 20, 30 years from now.”

Patton said Saturday’s event was originally scheduled in May to coincide with the anniversary of the tornado, but restrictions related to the pandemic forced organizers to postpone it.

“We’re all still together, even through a pandemic,” she said. “Hopefully we’re doing this safely, but in a really positive way and the town, I think, is just really excited about it.”

Some volunteers said there was a fitting symbolism to the event as well.

“There’s nothing more symbolic for strength and longevity than a tree,” said Tim Benjamin as he loaded six saplings onto his pickup truck. “I don’t think there’s ever a given time frame on giving back to the community.”

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