Couple with newborn overwhelmed by generosity after tornado levels home
By Janet Lundquist Sun-Times Media November 28, 2013 7:26PM
Mari and Jason Eaton, of Diamond, spend time with their newborn daughter Thursday at Mari's parents' house in Joliet. | Janet Lundquist/Sun-Times Media
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Updated: December 30, 2013 12:33PM
The Eaton family thought they knew what it meant to be thankful.
But their definition of gratitude sharpened last week, after Jason and Mari Eaton and their newborn daughter, Ariana, weathered a tornado that destroyed their house in the village of Diamond, southwest of Joliet. They were down the block, huddling in the basement of Jason’s sister’s house, which was heavily damaged when the tornado ripped through the neighbhorhood.
Jason and Mari Eaton brought their daughter, who was born on Nov. 14, home from the hospital the day before a tornado swept through.
“I think it’s definitely made us stronger,” Mari said Thursday. They have been staying with Jason’s family in Minooka and spent Thanksgiving with Mari’s family in Joliet.
“This whole experience has made this Thanksgiving have a whole new meaning,” Mari said. The Nov. 17 tornado ravaged parts of Diamond and Coal City, damaging at least 225 houses, authorities said.
The Eaton’s home had only a crawl space, not a full basement. So, for safety, the couple decided to walk a few houses down to Jason’s sister’s house — which does have a basement — to sit out the storm there.
When the storm hit, Mari Eaton held the baby and Jason shielded them as they ducked for cover. No one was hurt and their newborn slept through the storm, they said.
In the hours after the storm, Jason picked through the broken glass and debris strewn through their home, looking for anything salvageable.
The baby’s room, which was lovingly decorated and filled with gifts and baby necessities, was trashed.
A diamond necklace Jason gave Mari for their first Christmas together was lost.
But then things took a positive turn.
Donations came pouring in for tornado victims. Volunteers flooded the area, cleaning up debris, sorting donations and delivering coffee and sandwiches to people in the hardest-hit area.
Strangers spent hundreds of dollars on baby items for tiny Ariana, who picked up the nickname “Tornado Baby.”
“Somebody said, ‘Can I take a picture of the Tornado Baby? She is the light in all this darkness,’ ” Mari said.
The words brought her to tears, she said.
Mari’s mother, Rosalinda Cruz, said she is amazed by the generosity they have seen.
“It’s a good Thanksgiving,” Cruz said. “I truly cannot stress enough how grateful we are for the people who are supporting them.”
Jason and Mari said words cannot express the gratitude they feel this Thanksgiving.
“There’s so much stuff we’ve received. It just doesn’t feel like we deserve it,” Jason said. “There were a lot of other families affected, and we hope they’re getting the same amount of support.”
The couple also thanked their families, who have taken care of Ariana and helped them clean up the mess the tornado made.
Mari’s sister, Cecilia Cruz, plucked the hospital record with Ariana’s birth information and tiny footprints from the mess in the baby’s room — a find that made Mari melt.
“We could have been depressed about this, but with everyone being so supportive, it’s helped me mentally and emotionally,” Mari said.
The couple plan to rebuild their house and hope to move back to Diamond by summer.
“After this, I really can’t see myself living anywhere else,” Mari said.