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Duggars lend helping hand in Joplin

When word spread that a monster tornado had just hit Joplin, Mo., several members of the famed "19 Kids & Counting" family sprang into action.
Several members of the Duggar family pitched in with search-and-rescue efforts in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo.
Several members of the Duggar family pitched in with search-and-rescue efforts in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo.TODAY
/ Source: msnbc.com

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 children, Josh, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Juston, Jackson, Johanna, Jennifer, Jordyn-Grace and Josie, all have a roof over their heads.

The same can't be said for thousands of residents of Joplin, Mo., who were fortunate enough to survive the devastating tornado that pulverized much of the town of 49,000.

So when word spread that a monster tornado had just hit Joplin, several members of Duggar clan sprang into action to help.

"We heard about the tornado from some friends of ours in that direction," eldest son Josh Duggar told msnbc.com by telephone Thursday. "They called us and said, 'Hey, a tornado just touched down.'"

The Duggars, of reality TV show "19 Kids & Counting" fame, live in Tontitown-Springdale area in northwest Arkansas — 18 kids and their parents in one house and Josh and his wife and young daughter in another nearby. They are about 75 miles south of Joplin.

Josh, 23, who has past volunteer firefighting experience, and siblings John, Jana and Jill, active volunteer firefighters with first-responder training, decided to head to Joplin shortly after the tornado hit Sunday night. Their father, Jim Bob, along with younger siblings Jessa, Jinger, Joseph and Josiah, accompanied them.

The family members set out in a three-car caravan loaded with supplies including bottled water, flashlights, batteries, Gatorade, dried snacks and ponchos. When they arrived in Joplin, they were immediately put to work.

The younger Duggars handed out supplies, while the ones with emergency training combed the streets looking for survivors amid the collapsed houses.

Jill Duggar, holds a stuffed animal uncovered while volunteering with search and rescue operations on Monday, May 23, 2011. Following the massive tornado that ripped through the town of Joplin, MO, Jill and several of her siblings traveled from their Arkansas home to help. JIll was part of a large group of firefighters that came to the area to help aid local emergency teams. Jill is part of the Duggar Family from TLC's 19 Kids & Counting.Joshua Duggar

"We’d holler out 'search and rescue!' when we come to a house and if there was no roof on the house we’d make sure it was safe to enter and then we’d go through and look," Josh said.

Josh and his three siblings with first-responder training spent Sunday night and much of Monday pitching in with search-and-rescue operations before returning home. They didn't come across any survivors during their stint. At a hard-hit Home Depot store, Josh said, searchers did make a particularly disturbing discovery: a father with two children in his arms, all dead.

"It’s one thing when you find an adult or something, but children … this storm showed no mercy whatsoever," Josh said. "It's really tough, it hits home. That’s the tough part of any rescue operation."

The Duggars' volunteer efforts in Joplin were featured earlier this week on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the celebrity gossip and entertainment website TMZ.com.

Josh, who owns two car dealerships in northwest Arkansas, and his siblings wanted to head back to Joplin Wednesday morning  but ran into severe weather. They ended up detouring to near Ozark, Ark., where a less severe tornado hit overnight, and pitched in there.

Josh said he and his siblings are determined to return to Joplin to help out with recovery efforts.

"When you see any natural disaster you realize that it could be your home, your area, your life that you know," Josh said.

"The injuries and fatalities — you realize that could be my family, that could be my child, that could be my son or daughter. This is not an isolated situation. It could happen anywhere. Praise God it didn’t happen to me."

Giving back is a mantra in the super-sized conservative Christian family. "One of the most important things we can teach our children is to have a ministry mindset. We hope to make a difference," Jim Bob said during an episode of "19 Kids & Counting."

As for Josh's take-away lesson from Joplin, he says, "If a natural disaster strikes in your area go out and help. I think that’s what we felt compelled to do.

"We’re just a very small part of helping. Don’t feel like your small part isn’t going to be valuable."