POSTED: Saturday, June 29, 2013 - 7:00am
UPDATED: Saturday, June 29, 2013 - 7:04am
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — A group of bicyclists came to town as part of a unique, 830-mile ride. They will have a finish line with a big banner, but it will say "welcome home," and it won't be for them.
Twenty-nine people joined together to ride from Joplin, MO, to New Orleans to help people whose lives were severely impacted by natural disasters.
"We've talked about, 'it's a long to pedal from Joplin to New Orleans,'" said Jerrod Hogan, one of the tour's organizers. "Well, folks impacted by disasters, it's a long road home for them."
Most of the riders are from Joplin, a small city that was hit by a large tornado in May, 2011. They set out for New Orleans because they learned, in the aftermath of the tornado, that they have a lot in common with people from south Louisiana.
"Despite the fact that we share a common thread of suffering through tragedy, we also share a common thread of really realizing what humanity can do in time of need," Hogan said.
Aaron Brown, a pastor from Joplin who is riding in the group, agreed that people in Joplin have a similar strength and resilience to the people of Louisiana.
"A lot of the houses have been rebuilt, a lot of the businesses are back, but there's still a long way to go," he said of his home town. "We've got about 100 families right now that are still living in FEMA trailers or in some temporary housing somewhere."
Every mile on the bike means more money for their cause: building homes for victims of the tornado, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy, which hit the New York/New Jersey area in 2012.
"The people on this ride are making a physical sacrifice in order to inspire other people to make a financial sacrifice to get these families home," said Brown.
With one day left on their trip, they have already raised $131,000. Each rider pledged at least $2,500, and corporate partners donated, as well. With $19,000 more, they say they will be able to build a new home in each of the three areas.
"Everywhere we stop, we tell people the story," Brown stated. "And people will hand us money right there on the spot, [and] say, 'hey, we believe in what you do.'"
The tour will cover 830 miles over 10 days, ending in Chalmette, home of the St. Bernard Project . The shortest leg was expected to be 64 miles long, and many of the riders had never covered such large distances before this trip. They said they were sore at the end of a long, hot day on the pavement. But knowing how much they will help three families who lost everything made it the best possible kind of pain.
"The road that we went through (Friday), to ride 100 miles to get here, is nothing like the families that lost their homes in Katrina, or Sandy, or the tornado in Joplin."
The ride is called JOMONOLA, a combination of Joplin, MO, and New Orleans, LA. It may change its name in the future, but not its mission.
"Right now is a bad time to ask me if this is going to be an annual event," Hogan joked, minutes after finishing the first 100-mile ride of his life. "No, I absolutely do. Unfortunately, there's always going to be communities and families that are in need and need a little bit of a push to help them get back home. And what better way to do it than to bring people from across the country to unite with one cause."