My hometown of Louisville, Mississippi is in the beginning stage of recovery after the EF4 tornado ripped through several areas of it and the county of Winston on Monday. With the help of FEMA, MEMA, The Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, The National Guard, Mississippi Highway Patrol (State Troopers), Mississippi State University (MSU), Tyson Food INC., Atmos Energy–just to name a few–the residents are seeing a little light of hope. Not only have we received great attention from national corporations, but we have also received immediate and overwhelming support from our local fire departments, churches, police, and businesses. Everywhere I look, I see someone volunteering, donating, organizing, cutting up fallen trees, removing debris, and distributing supplies to specific locations–that is what I have been doing all day…*SIDE NOTE* If you have ever doubted the amount of room in a Volkswagen Beetle…let me tell you, doubt no more. How much did it hold? A ridiculous amount…an awesome kind of ridiculous! My little car made it easy to zip around the debris and to get supplies to those in need. Thanks, Sugar (yes, I also named my car…I digress.)
While making deliveries on Brooksville Road, I stopped and asked a woman if she needed any water. She took several bottles gratefully and before I pulled away, she asked, “I know this is probably a stupid question, but I really gotta’ ask–Would you happen to have a cup of coffee or know where I could get one? A cup of good coffee would be really nice right about now.” I had no coffee…nor anyway to get her any…my heart was breaking as I explained to the woman I had no coffee…BUT then, something fabulous happened. A man came up to where I was parked and exclaimed, “I can make you a cup of coffee! We will have to do it one cup at a time–but I can get you some coffee.” The woman’s face lit up with joy. “Really? You can do that! Oh, thank you, thank you!”
I gave the strangers–I wish I would have gotten their names–more bottled water to make coffee and stay hydrated. *SIDE NOTE* Louisville is currently under a boil water notice….Driving away, all I could think was, “Wow…who knew a cup of coffee could make someone smile so big. Thank you, God, for working a quick little miracle just then…Thank you.” I then continued my mission…I must have shouted “Do you need any water, sunscreen, and chapstick?” a million times today…That simple question brought smiles…at times tears…to those receiving the basic supplies…and to the giver….
Those affected by the storms are not the only ones who need food and good ole’ Mississippi Hospitality…right? Right! That is why I have been on a mission the past two days to not only volunteer, but to also chat with those caring for the first responders, utility workers, and the many volunteers here in Louisville, Mississippi and Winston County.
“We [Atmos Energy] are all about helping during situations like these. When we heard the news, we got food together to feed the first responders in this area because the workers and volunteers cannot work efficiently if they are hungry. It is important for your power/electricity to work efficiently just as it is important for the first responders here to be fed and working efficiently to help clean up Louisville,” explained Stefan H. Lehnerer, P.E. (Operations Manager at Atmos Energy) as we chatted at their tent on Tuesday, April 29. At this time, the tent was located in the Walmart parking lot. *Side Note* There are a lot of good things happening at the Walmart parking lot for the tornado victims…from food to medical help…even potty johns.
Tyson Food INC. is also in Louisville feeding the victims, volunteers, workers, and first responders. I had a chance to speak with Mark Smith (Manager) today about what Tyson was doing to help–“As soon as we heard about the storm that came through, we contacted corporate and mobilized a team from Carthage, Mississippi to come down and help feed everyone. We have a community service department and disaster relief team who helped us reach out to this area and get cookers out here–we also spoke with The Red Cross about what their needs were in this situation so that we could find out how we [Tyson] could help,” explained Mike Smith at one of their cooking stations at the Louisville Walmart. “We are running vehicles in and out of the hardest hit areas–hand delivering meals to the workers, volunteers, and victims. We have a total of four vans and a ton of people helping us distribute these meals and get them to who needs them. In fact, we have an order for two hundred meals being filled right now that will be distributed shortly…At about 10:30 today, we had already served five hundred plus people, and we are expecting to feed around twenty-five hundred to three thousand people today. We will continue to stay here working in conjunction with The Red Cross and Walmart to help feed and distribute food/water to the areas that need it most.” Before calling it a day, I stopped back by the Tyson truck at Louisville Walmart to get a count of just how many people Tyson had served today in Louisville. “I do not have a exact amount, but overall, we [Tyson] have served about twenty-five hundred people today. We are expected to feed about three thousand plus people tomorrow,” stated Mike Smith.
Also from Tyson Food INC. I chatted with Cyd Landing (Chaplain) about how Tyson is getting involved to help the Louisville tornado victims. “We have two chaplains here today, and we will have another one in tomorrow [Thursday, May 1] to set up a crisis relief for people who come in and need help. There has been a lot of devastation here, and people have seen a lot of devastating things–and we want to help them overcome it. We have special team members that are going to be helping people deal with PTSD, trauma, and the crisis of this overall situation. We are a team here at Tyson, but we are also a family. When we see our people in need, we are there to take care of them. So, we came here, we set up, and we are here to help as many people in this area as we can. I am so thankful that Tyson is a company that cares enough to help out and provide the need of a hot meal in a situation like this,” explained Cyd Landing.
Recapping some of the things that happened over the past two days has me in tears right now…I cannot believe the destruction I have seen–but I also cannot believe the amount of love and support I have witnessed. Yesterday, I had a hard time processing the entire situation. Part of me knew it was real…and another part of me was just hoping it was a bad dream that would go away. Unfortunately…when I drove into town today…it was not a dream…it was real…a little too real. The stories that I have heard…the miracles that happened…the loss of loved ones…search and rescue accounts…stories about which I cannot write because there are no words to describe the tragedy…to describe the miracles…to describe the tears…the fears…no, I am unable to write those stories…but this I can tell y’all, beloved readers…these stories are being shared…and the tears are being wiped…and hugs are being given.