‘Everyplace that was hit, I know somebody’: Local congregations reach out following Kentucky tornado

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Roger Ford played football, basketball and baseball on the fields and courts of Princeton, Kentucky, as he was growing up. He later graduated from Caldwell County High School in the area.

His father was from nearby Dawson Springs. His father-in-law was a doctor in Mayfield for many years.

So when a tornado ripped through western Kentucky in December, he knew he wanted to drive to the area and help out.

“Everyplace that was hit, I know somebody there,” he said.

He turned to his church to see if others might want to donate items they could send with him. An email went out to the congregation one afternoon. The next day he went to Heather Hills Baptist Church in Cumberland, where from 3 to 7 p.m., he loaded donated non-perishable food, bottled water, paper goods, blankets, clothes and other items until a van and a church trailer were full. A few friends from church offered to accompany him, but he told them he didn’t have room after packing all the donations.

“All of a sudden, I’ve got a vanload of stuff going,” Ford said.

In the month since the Dec. 10 tornado, several local congregations have been among those sending volunteers, items and donations to the area as residents clean up debris, close up holes, and look toward rebuilding.

Members of Shiloh Christian Church in Blue River Township donated $4,200 toward tornado relief. That was matched by the church board, and the total of $8,400 went to International Disaster Emergecy Services. IDES, with headquarters in Noblesville, ministers through disaster relief and feeding programs around the globe. According to its website, it also focuses on evangelism, community development and medical care.

At this stage, IDES is working in the Bowling Green, Kentucky, area to help tornado victims.

Zion Lutheran Church in New Palestine took up a collection of about $2,000 for tornadio relief, according to the Rev. Jason Taylor, and sent it to a Lutheran disaster relief organization.

Josh Brown of Greenfield was talking about the tornado with several of his children, and one of his teenage daughters said it would be good to go to the area and help. Brown liked the idea but felt it was important to go with an organization and not just show up. He prayed about it and checked with the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse; sure enough, it was assembling groups of volunteers. They would sleep at a church where Samaritan’s Purse had set up quarters.

He and three of his daughters, ages 15-16, spent three days in the Mayfield area. They helped people move out of badly damaged houses. They cleared trees and moved debris to the curb; “FEMA will come and move everything at the curb,” Brown said.

There were so many stories embedded in the larger tale of the tornado and its destruction. One man needed help packing a U-Haul so he and his daughter could move out of their damaged house — and then figure out where to point the U-Haul. One woman had a vessel sink that was still salvagable, and the tools Brown had brought came in handy for getting it out. Staff from a restaurant drove down the street serving barbecue sandwiches, one of several restaurants he saw coming to feed people, both those cleaning out their homes and the volunteers helping them.

Then there was the full-circle moment in his own family’s story: Two of his daughters had, in the years before they were adopted into the Brown family, received shoeboxes at a Ukraine orphanage through Operation Christmas Child. Having received those gifts through Samaritan’s Purse in the past, now they were volunteers helping others through the ministry.

Brown had organized a second team of volunteers, made up of others from Brandywine Community Church in Greenfield, to return to the area. But Samaritan Purse’s overnight volunteer opportunities were by then full in Mayfield.

Since the area already had many volunteers on site, Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield hopes to send teams to help with cleanup and rebuilding in March, said David Barnett, the church’s teaching pastor. Park Chapel is gathering donations for tornado relief during January.

“We have partnered with a church in Mayfield called Catalyst,” Barnett wrote in an email. “Catalyst was the primary relief provider in Mayfield until FEMA arrived a few days after the devastation.

“Our initial phase has been to raise financial support for relief efforts with the goal of $10,000 by the end of January 2022. We are well past that goal as of now.”

Ford is glad to hear there are people making plans to help after the initial wave of volunteers subsides.

After he dropped off the donated items in Dawson Springs and Princeton, he stayed in Kentucky for a few more days. He helped his nephew, whose in-laws’ roof was torn from their house, as they moved personal belongings out of the damaged structure. After he returned home, an extra $1,000 left in donations from the church bought tools he sent on a truck to the area.

He thinks of the man who told him it took only 15 seconds for the tornado to destroy his home. He thinks of a longtime friend who had recently bought a new truck and parked it at his workplace in a warehouse to protect it — only to learn the building was flattened. He thinks of where he grew up, with his childhood home largely intact but others nearby destroyed.

“The neighborhood was mashed,” he said. “It wasn’t blown around like you’d think; it was mashed to the ground.”

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