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Mom opens free chow line at Joplin's temporary tent hospital

Volunteers hang a sign at a church, which is destroyed by a tornado in Joplin, Missouri
Volunteers hang a sign at a church, which is destroyed by a tornado in Joplin, Missouri

JOPLIN, Mo (Reuters) - The tent hospital erected to replace the medical center destroyed by the tornado that tore through here on May 22 is up and running with an operating room, beds for dozens of patients, an imaging center and lab.

But an on-site canteen to feed the doctors, nurses, technicians and contractors working at the temporary facility isn't expected to open for another week.

In the meantime, Emily Hymer, a 35-year-old mother of four whose husband helped design and install the temporary hospital's plumbing system, is making sure no one goes hungry.

With the help of family, friends and strangers, and donations from local schools and businesses, Hymer has organized a volunteer effort to feed the hospital's medical staff -- as well as the engineers and maintenance people working behind the scenes to keep the center running -- until a more permanent cafeteria opens.

What started five days ago with some cold sandwiches distributed out of the trunk of Hymer's car has morphed into a 24-hour catering operation that serves several hundred hot meals a day for free.

"They fill our stomachs, feed our spirits and ask for nothing in return," said Michelle Luellen, a registered nurse in Joplin who has been working at the temporary medical center.

Hymer, who lives north of Joplin in the community of Carl Junction, Missouri, cadged the supplies for the first meal she served from the cafeteria at the school where she works as a secretary and which has just begun summer holidays.

"I asked them what food they were going to be throwing away because it wouldn't last until summer school starts," she said.

The sandwiches, fruit and drinks donated by the school didn't last the lunch hour. So Hymer said she got on the phone and "just started calling friends, churches and other organizations around town." She also reached out to friends on Facebook, who put the word out.

The donations quickly poured in. A local restaurant lent Hymer a commercial grill. A couple drove down from Wisconsin with bratwurst and cheese curds. A youth group from Kearney, Nebraska served up the food.

"It's been amazing," Hymer said. "It's been quite an experience. As long as I have donations and volunteers, I'll be here."

(Writing by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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