Local residents reaching out to assist Oklahoma tornado victims
It may be more than two years later, but the people in Franklin County who were affected by the events on April 27, 2011, are never going to forget what it was like to lose their businesses, their homes and the ones they loved.
Knowing the struggles they faced at that time, many residents in Phil Campbell and East Franklin felt deep sympathy and the need to reach out to those who were affected by the horrific tornado that destroyed homes, businesses, schools and lives in Moore, Okla., on Monday.
Two different groups are currently taking up donations for items that will be personally delivered to the Oklahoma tornado victims.
Phil Campbell residents Barry and Beth Rhea are helping organize a group of volunteers who will be traveling to Oklahoma June 21-24 to deliver much-needed supplies.
The Rheas were in charge of the disaster relief center set up at the Phil Campbell Community Center in the months immediately following April 27.
They watched first-hand as droves and droves of people poured into the small community with food, water, supplies and a desire to help those who had lost everything.
They were there as storm victims filed into the community center looking for whatever help they could find, and they knew what it meant to their friends and neighbors to receive many of the things people from across the country had donated.
“When we heard about the tornado in Oklahoma, we decided that night that we wanted to help,” Barry Rhea said.
“We had people from all over come to help us. How could we not do the same for them when they were in trouble? This is our chance to give back and pay it forward.”
And they’re not the only ones paying it forward.
Right after the tornado swept through Phil Campbell, a group of volunteers from St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana showed up in Phil Campbell loaded down with trucks and trailers full of supplies.
Those volunteers had been through Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and knew exactly what it was like to lose all they had, so they wasted no time organizing relief efforts and heading to Alabama with supplies.
After their initial trip, Rhea said the group from Louisiana made three more trips to bring supplies and the Rheas eventually formed a friendship with the group they affectionately called the “Cajun Invasion.”
“We contacted our friends from Louisiana and told them about our plans to gather supplies and go help the people in Oklahoma and they were immediately on board,” Rhea said.
“They’ll be making the trip with us in June, so it will be great to have the people who helped us going with us to help others in need.
“It’s like a chain reaction – when you help someone, they are inspired to help someone else and it just spreads from there. It’s the whole concept of paying it forward. I’m just glad we’re going to be part of continuing the trend.”
Rhea said he hoped the specific knowledge they gained from working at the disaster relief center in Phil Campbell will be helpful when gathering supplies for the storm victims in Oklahoma.
“We saw the things that were needed the most and we saw what wasn’t needed and just ended up being in the way,” Rhea said.
“People’s hearts were in the right place and we appreciated everyone who donated items to our victims, but at one point we were just overwhelmed with used clothing because people kept bringing it but we didn’t have enough people needing it or taking it so then it was just piled up in a corner taking up room where we needed to store other supplies.
“We remember the supplies we kept running out of and the ones we couldn’t get rid of, so we hope to take that knowledge and gather the most useful items we can to take with us to these tornado victims.”
Rhea said he and his wife have been in contact with Graceway Baptist Church in Oklahoma, which listed the following items as most needed: water, non-perishable food, pain relievers, band-aids, batteries, wipes, hand sanitizer, diapers, gloves, and sunscreen. Pre-paid Visa gift cards are also listed as useful items and monetary gifts will be used to purchase needed supplies.
Rhea said they will also be collecting new packages of socks, sports bras and underwear; paper towels, toilet tissue, paper plates, plastic utensils, plastic/foam cups, baby wipes, flip flops, mops, brooms, rakes, cleaning supplies, OFF bug spray, chapstick, towels, sheets, blankets and pillows. No used clothing will be accepted.
In Russellville, donations can be dropped off at the Franklin County Soil & Water Conservation District located in the Fred’s Shopping Center, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. through June 18.
“We may not all be able to go to Oklahoma and help, but we can all give donations of food or supplies that will help someone who has lost all they had,” Rhea said.
For those who want to give immediately, East Franklin residents Tony Hodge and Rodney Baker have a trailer set up outside the Russellville Fire Department Station 2 on U.S. 43 that will accept donations through 8 p.m. this evening and then be taken to Oklahoma tomorrow.
“We want to be givers, not just takers,” Baker said.
The items they are requesting include nonperishable food, bottled water, flashlights, batteries, tarps, rakes, shovels, large plastic tote boxes, new linens and sleeping bags, personal hygiene items, baby items and toys.