*All of the photos featured in this post were taken from my area of Alabama. Special thanks to facebook friends for allowing me to use them.
I’ve received countless emails asking if we were alright after last week’s devastating tornadoes and I’ve tried to respond as best I can. I’ve also received countless emails from a lot of folks who must not realize that I live in Alabama and we are in the midst of the biggest natural disaster in the history of the state. Please rest assured that my family is fine. We still have our home and the worst on our end was losing all of our refrigerated and frozen items as we had to do without power for a few days. I cannot thank you enough for your kindness and concern and hope that you will continue to keep Alabama and those who lost everything in your prayers.
A lot of folks don’t realize how devastating these tornadoes were because the national news has kinda moved on a bit. I now understand how so many of you feel when you go through something horrific and get fifteen minutes of coverage while you spend days and weeks of folks wondering how they will survive, then months and years struggling to rebuild while Lady Gaga’s outfit makes front page of yahoo.
We are digging out here in Alabama. More states were hit and they all suffered considerable blows but I can only share with you what it is like where I am. Many people are still without power. Without hot water, without a means of cooking, storing, and even acquiring food. What’s worse though, many families are without homes entirely. They have lost everything they own and precious loved ones as well.
Bin Laden may be gone, but so are these people’s houses.
A lot of people who understand our situation here have been asking how they can help. We have received countless prayers and notes of understanding from Katrina victims, Rita victims, etc. All folks who have been here and know all too well the frustration many are feeling right now.
A lot of folks are hearing about the horrific damage in Tuscaloosa and don’t realize how widespread the damage is beyond that.
To help put it in perspective, I live about three hours north of Tuscaloosa. In this area alone we lost over 350 homes.
That is 350 families who have lost everything. People have come from all over with utility companies from four different states working around the clock to try to restore power to those families who are still fortunate enough to have their homes. Police officers and volunteers from as far as New Jersey have come down to pitch in with the effort to remove debris, recover what property they can for those whose homes are gone, and pitch in to fill whatever needs arise.
Today I went to the Monrovia Community Center, located just ten minutes or so from my house. My brother took his grills and smokers there and has been cooking for folks since last Thursday. I joined my dad and uncle Jerry there to see what was needed and was able to talk with our county commissioner, Dale Strong. Dale is a good guy, he and I used to ride the bus together as kids. He has been working nonstop and his efforts and those of thousands of volunteers have really drawn the community together.
They have set up a command center at the Monrovia Community Center. They are feeding over 5000 people per day and have been since Thursday. They also have food being transported to over 2500 people in the area who do not have vehicles to come to the center.
My power came back on last night and I was thrilled to be able to get the fixings for a few dishes to take today when I went to meet with them and see where help was needed.
My dad was working out front and a lady pulled up with children to pick up some clothing. He said “Ma’am, theres food in there if you want any.” She looked skeptical and said “How much does it cost?” to which he replied “Nothing, absolutely free. Take your whole family in and eat all you want, then come back for supper”.
Inside volunteers work out of a tiny kitchen preparing food and serving it buffet style as it comes off the grills or out of the small work space. Homeless families and volunteers file in constantly to fill their plates and enjoy what for many will be their only meal of the day.
The hallway is lined with boxes filled with sack lunches that will be taken out into the field to volunteers who don’t want to stop working long enough to come to the center.
When they are finished they can go into one of two gymnasiums. One is lined with groceries, toiletries, diapers, personal items. People are escorted around as they fill boxes to help them get whatever it is they need, no questions asked. The other gymnasium has clothing separated by size and gender that folks are welcome to as well as toys. I saw many families leave with small children clutching toys they had just gotten, which can be a tremendous comfort to kids who don’t understand why they have lost everything their little hearts held dear.
- Most of our schools are still closed.
- Over 152,000 people are going on their sixth day without power
- Far too many are without homes.
- We are still under curfew, thankfully, to protect us from looting and lack of street and traffic lights at night.
- Even in the best of situations, having only lost all of your cold and frozen groceries, many people simply do not have the money to go restock.
How you can help:
Of course, please give where your heart tells you to. There are national organizations taking money but we have seen very little of them. Instead, the community has pulled together to help the community. The national media has moved on so if you are reading this, you are our media.
Post a link to this article on your fb page. If you have damage in your area, facebook about it, blog about it, tweet about it, help get word out so that those who need help have a better chance of getting it.
Dale Strong is leading the efforts with the tremendous help and organization of a local church group, The Rock. They are taking donations and using them to provide food and needed items at the community center I visited today as well as five other similar centers.
Dale urges people to donate any amount of money that they can and the Rock has a page set up to accept donations. I’ve worked with these folks at The Rock before. They help run Manna House, our local soup kitchen that I did a benefit book signing for and they are good people. Dale said every penny they get and then some is going directly to those in need in the wake of the tornadoes. I’ve heard many national organizations take a large portion of donations to cover administration costs but every penny of what you give to the folks below will go directly to the people affected by the disaster in my area.
For a listing of other organizations accepting donations, please click here to visit my friend Wade’s blog post.
You are welcome to list your organization in the comments below provided it is a verifiable charitable organization that is giving at least 80% of donations directly back to the public (ie. not reserving 30% or more for “administration” costs).
For those who have lost nearly everything, any amount will make a difference.
The national media has moved on. You are the media now.