Wednesday December 22, 2022
To all you wonderful people who supported this project, let me just start by saying how incredible it was to see everyone's love pour in the last 5 days, and how lucky the five of us were to carry all your donations, blessings, and well wishes with us to Kentucky. And so, we owe you a quick update on our visit on site in Kentucky this past Sunday. As you read please check the accompanying photos below for a more complete interactive experience.
Nitai, Vaibhav, Patricio, Shreyans, and I made the 6+ hour trip up Sunday morning, arriving just at dark around 4:30pm (daylight savings, I know).
We first visited Benton Kentucky, a small town just off the tornado's path, where the school superintendent of that school system, Mr. Miracle (yes his actual name) explained how thousands of school teachers and retired school teachers were spending their holiday break restocking rows of items in a gymnasium like it was a Wal-Mart.
We met Jeff, Dan, Tracy, and a host of people all working hard in the freezing temperatures to unload what we had brought for everyone. At first, we were surprised by the heap of goods already in the store room. But they explained that the goods distribution will go on 3-6 months --long after media attention will have forgotten what happened to them. In fact, they were blown away that people in Atlanta were thinking and acting for them. We left with them many clothes, shovels, tarps, blankets, canned goods, bread, toilet paper, paper towels, water, Gatorade, Flashlights, and our blessings, and said goodbye. We were told that even 5 miles from the primary Tornado site, Benton had several destroyed houses, but in the dark we couldn't see anything.
We spent the night in Murray, KY in a small motel, and the next morning drove to downtown Mayfield. The site is etched into my mind. As we came over a hill, passing the town graveyard on the left, we saw the sign for Mayfield, surrounded by dozens of house-sized scraps of junk. Each one was like a junkyard, many with its own team of yellow-vested workers, using cranes and trucks and chainsaws to further dismantle the wreckage so that its owners could enter to scavenge for surviving valuables and heirlooms.
We pulled over and talked to one family, Ray and Elizabeth, who had only begun scavenging 6 days after the disaster as they took in the series of events. They were given 5 days to recover what they wanted before the house was bull-dozed. We helped them carry out a vanity and several piles of picture frames, old hardwood furniture, and a dozen porcelain pieces that had survived the wreck. Their daughter's boyfriend told us "I'm just blessed to be alive. What can I say, I'm here." We used our truck to carry some of the larger items with them to the storage unit. While much of the work needed in Mayfield was skilled labor, electrical and demolition and otherwise, they told us that other families had yet to recover their valuables, and may need further assistance.
We went on to visit the County Fairgrounds where more than 50 National Guard Troops were feverishly and chaotically running around unloading a line of trailers and pickup trucks from Illinois, Indiana, and other neighboring states and towns. We were proud to represent Georgia and they gave us some lunch from a food truck distributing free food. But the fairgrounds didn't seem to have as many visitors as the churches we had passed, so we chose to see if we could meet the townspeople and share what we were given a little more directly to the community.
We proceeded to go on a montage of donations, visiting every distribution center set up on street corners, in churches, in schools of every level, even in some destroyed lots, giving oranges, Batteries, Electrical Cords, Canned goods, jackets, water, and all the other things we had. In each place, we met the teachers, church congregations, and families of Mayfield.
Every time, they offered us lunch and we took some to show our gratitude, even though we were stuffed by about the third location. We met church elder Sam at Northside Church of Christ, and Pastor Andrea and previous Paster Neal at Church of the Nazerene, as well as a elder church woman who tried to set up one of the boys with her granddaughter (joking or not we're not sure).
We met Chad the supervisor for FEMA, the federal government representative on site overseeing the city-wide reconstruction effort. He even gave us an interview which you will see part of in our upcoming video, and off camera said about a hundred times, "Good work you guys, good work. Great work".
We met Football coach Dan at the Mayfield High School, Patricia from the Salvation Army who gave us hot chocolate, and more than a dozen fathers of current and former high school basketball players who told us all about the prospects and up-and-coming stars of the University of Kentucky Wildcat Basketball Team.
We saw more than a hundred families that lost their homes, as they gathered supplies inside the distribution centers, and we got to talk to a few as we helped them gather supplies in their shopping carts.
We haggled with volunteers about how many oranges they could eat, and with churches about whether their store rooms full of the donations we sent would be clear in time to serve Christmas Dinner.
We met the United Way and American Red Cross Officials giving out meals to cars lined up in traffic.
We met the electric workers putting up 50 new power lines in an afternoon.