WASHINGTON — Dec. 31 won't just be the last day of the year.
It also will be the last day of a monumental effort to collect, clean, catalog and return personal items found across the state following the devastating November 2013 tornadoes that hit Tazewell County, Diamond and Gifford.
About 6,000 items, including about 5,000 photos, remain unclaimed from the original compilation of about 12,000 items gathered by the volunteer-driven Community Power Project.
The items are in the Washington District Library in Five Points Washington, where they've been stored since being moved in 2014 from the Morton Public Library, their original home.
Photos and personal documents are in 120 five-inch, three-ring binders. Larger items, such as an antique doll, are in boxes. All are in the library's storage room.
"We need the space, and we need closure. We need to get rid of the items," said Washington library director Lexie Walsh. "Ideally, we'd have this stuff forever and all the owners would be found. But that's not possible."
The library put out a call in September for people to check for their items on Community Power Project Facebook pages that can be assessed through the library's website. A dozen people have come into the library since September to claim items.
"Before that, nobody had come into the library to get items since October 2015," Walsh said. "We thought we'd get more than a dozen people coming in since September, but that's 12 more than we had the past three years."
Walsh said library staff members have tried through the years to find owners of items and been successful on occasion.
"When all it says on the back of a photo is something like, 'Joseph, 1992,' there's not much we can do," she said.
So what will happen to unclaimed items after Dec. 31?
Some will go to the Washington Historical Society. Religious items will be given to an appropriate place of worship, like a rosary to a Catholic church.
Walsh said personal items like photos and financial statements will be destroyed to protect their owners' privacy.
"I feel terrible that we'll be destroying items, but what else can we do?" she said. "I hope we get a flood of people coming in during the next month. But even if we don't, I don't consider this effort a failure."
Neither does Laura Ruff of Washington, who headed the Community Power Project along with Marsie Gale of East Peoria and Heather Binder of Oswego, a former Peoria resident, after the three connected through social media.
"We knew that eventually the project would come to an end. It was inevitable," Ruff said.
"I don't blame the library for doing what it's doing at all," she said. "There's no sadness. It would have been great to reunite all the items with their owners, but a 50 percent return rate isn't bad. Plus, we don't know how many people downloaded images from the Facebook pages instead of getting the originals."
The Community Power Project will live on in one respect.
It was presented at the Illinois Library Association's annual conference in Springfield in October 2014 as a blueprint of what do to reunite personal items with their owners following a disaster.
"Our project started from nothing," Ruff said. "I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who helped out. I can't say enough about (former Morton library director) Janice Sherman, who had unwavering faith in us and gave us the space and staff to get so much work done."
People who don't have a computer can come to the Washington library, 380 N. Wilmor Road, and get help from a staff member searching for items.
Those who find items online are asked to write down the item number and call the library at 444-2241.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.