GREENFIELD — Bright and early Wednesday morning, a semi trailer loaded with food and water pulled out of the Hancock County Fairgrounds and headed for flood-ravaged Perry County, Kentucky — where 39 were killed and thousands were displaced from catastrophic flooding in late July.
The truck was loaded with dozens of pallets of goods that had been donated by Hancock County residents, who answered the call to help a devastated town 300 miles away.
Greenfield resident Jim Snellenberger organized the donation drive three weeks ago, knowing his community would be there to help.
“Hancock County is a giving, giving community,” he said.
News of the flooding had a deep impact on Snellenberger, who had visited the area several times on business 30 years ago.
“These people are in Appalachian coal country. These people have nothing,” said the retired teacher and businessman, knowing the level of need loomed large.
“It’s like if Greenfield got hit by a Level 4 or 5 tornado,” he said.
Snellenberger — who has managed a number of political campaigns over the years — loves to organize things, so he put those skills to use and started reaching out to contacts to organize the relief drive.
FM radio station WNAP, The Buzzard, agreed to run a promotional spot at the top of every hour, listing local donation drop-off sites.
Greenfield fire chief Brian Lott arranged for all 13 fire stations in Hancock County to serve as drop-off sites, and other Greenfield entities followed suit, including Miller’s Jewelry, Ella June’s boutique and St. Michael Catholic Church.
Mark Hammon, owner of Hammon Equipment Co. in Greenfield, provided an empty trailer to collect donations and parked it in the Vail’s Classic Cars parking lot.
Snellenberger was concerned when donations were barely trickling in at first, but within hours after posting a bright yellow “Flood Relief” banner a few days later, the donations started pouring in.
“It was like the Fairy Godmother had stopped by overnight,” said Snellenberger, who said someone had gone the extra mile by hopping up and pushing boxes of donated goods toward the back of the trailer.
Chick-fil-a and Indiana Box Co. both donated cardboard boxes flood victims can use to collect food and house goods at the outreach distribution facility in Hazard.
On Tuesday, Snellenberger and two friends from St. Michael Catholic Church — collection team leaders Roy Bruck and Dave Kaiser — spent over five hours loading the remaining donated goods into the trailer, loading up countless pallets that had been stored in the dairy barn at the fairgrounds.
A handful of volunteers helped out throughout the day, some of them cutting donated sheets into rags at the request of Kentucky’s Perry County Emergency Management in Hazard, Ky.
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, Hammons hooked the trailer up to a cab and drove it the four and a half hours to Hazard, Ky. for free.
Snellenberger and his wife, Alice, followed behind in their silver SUV, which was packed with donated home appliances like toasters and countertop grills.
While Snellenberger hopes the donations make a difference for those recovering from the floods, he knows there’s a long road ahead for those living in the high-poverty area.
“It might take a year or two to recover. A lot of their future is bleak,” he said. “They don’t have flood plain insurance. Everything they lost they’ll never get back.”
Even six weeks after the floods, Snellenberger said local officials have shared that about 10 people are still living in tents, nearly 20 are living in their cars, and about 20 are living at their places of work.
“These include families with kids,” he said.
From his frequent visits there on business years ago, Snellenberger remembers the people of Perry County as being relatively poor but proud, and ready to lend a helping hand.
“They’d give you the shirt off their backs,” he said.
It’s not the first time Snellenberger has pitched-in when disaster struck.
When a tornado ripped through the Falcon Point Apartments at 38th Street and German Church Road in Indianapolis in May 2008, displacing all its residents, Snellenberger organized a relief effort that included one Greenfield hotel donating 45 mattresses.
He said he’ll never forget the day he stopped by shortly after the tornado hit, rolling in cases of bottled water on a dolly.
“There was this big man walking out with a yellow trash bag over his shoulder, and he said, ‘I’ve got everything I owned right here,’” said Snellenberger, who was struck that the man didn’t express anger or sadness, but gratitude that no lives were lost.
“He said, ‘God blessed everybody here,’” he recalled, choking up at the memory.
Snellenberger said he’s driven to help with disaster relief efforts because he has a knack for organizing, but it’s the people who donate that make it all possible.
“You just hope that if this community were hit by a disaster that people would help, and they would. People are good,” he said.