Local leaders urge solidarity in assisting tornado damaged communities

Mrs. Mary Lee Wilder, age 99, receives food items from Greene County SCLC President Spiver W. Gordon and Lorenzo French. Gordon delivered 100 pieces of chicken donated by Church’s Chicken as well as canned goods, bottled water, soft drinks and other items donated by local merchants to residents in areas hit by the tornadoes which struck Greene County


Community leaders including county commissioners, mayors, church pastors, EMA and other service agencies, non-profit organizations and concerned citizens gathered in the William M. Branch Courthouse Tuesday night to promote a spirit of solidarity in securing assistance for families directly affected by the recent tornados and storms.
The idea for the gathering was spurred among the citizens volunteering in the damaged areas over the week end, sharing basic necessities including water, food, clothing and toiletries with persons in need.
Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele explained that the meeting was called to encourage the leadership of Greene County to share information and devise a plan of action to meet the needs of citizens affected by the recent storms. “We, as elected officials and service providers, wanted to show unity and team effort in assisting the storm victims,” stated Mayor Steele.
Various persons shared the work that had begun in the hardest hit communities. Commissioner Nick Underwood, who represents the Mantua, Snoddy and Jena communities, where many homes and other structures were lost or severely damaged, noted that churches in the area have collected large stocks of food, water, ice and other items that are being delivered to people. The distribution centers in the northern part of the Greene County include Shiloh Baptist Church in Jena, Johnson Hill Methodist Church in Union and the Mantua Volunteer Fire Department as well as Springhill United Methodist Church.
Commissioner Allen Turner, who represents Forkland and Tishabee, reminded the group that the southern part of Greene County had been hit hard with back-to-back tornados. In addition to homes, both Mt. Pilgrim and Christian Valley Churches were destroyed in the tornado last Wednesday. Morning Star Church, Tishabee, was destroyed by a tornado the previous week.
“We have been working tirelessly to assist families left homeless and without transportation. We need food, water, ice and other resources sent directly to Tishabee,” Turner stated. He noted that the community has set up an account to secure resources to assist the victims now but also to be better prepared for future disasters. The Tishabee Community Center will serve as a distribution center for that community.
Many churches throughout the county reported that their congregations are donating, collecting and distributing goods as well as volunteering with clean up and other immediate tasks. Many church leaders reported that they will contribute from the church treasury as well.
Iris Sermon and Hodges Smith, Greene County EMA representatives, informed the courthouse gathering that FEMA was forwarding trucks of water, ice, military meals and tarps to a central location in the county. “The goods we get through FEMA are being delivered to the armory building in Eutaw,” stated Sermon.
She explained that her office does not have the capacity to distribute the goods, communities will have to pick up the resources.
Sermon also appealed to church and other leaders to compile a listing of skilled persons who could voluntarily assist the communities hurt by the storms. “ We need carpenters, plumbers, loggers, cooks, welders, machines and their operators and people willing to help with clean-up tasks,” she said.
Carol Zippert informed the citizens that the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, located in Epes, AL (Sumter County) is set up as a staging area to help assist the rural communities damaged by the tornados in Sumter, Greene and Hale counties in particular. The Federation has a dormitory facility that can house up to 60 individuals and is available for persons needing shelter or volunteers coming in to assist. Other provisions will also be distributed from the Federation site.
Zippert stated that the Black Belt Community Foundation has established a Community Helping Communities Fund soliciting financial donations to assist tornado victims. Greene, Sumter and Hale counties are in the BBCF service area.
As the meeting closed, one citizen noted that the community needs to talk more about counseling. “Our people need a lot of hugs right now. Many people are very traumatized by these recent weather experiences. The children who survived the tornados will need help for a long time,” she stated.