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Volunteers help TN survivors

BY GEORGE PIPER | JACKSON, Tenn. | January 21, 1999

JACKSON, Tenn. (Jan. 21, 1999) -- Representatives from disaster relief

organizations are expected to meet today to begin to coordinate relief

efforts in the wake of tornadoes that ripped through the Volunteer State on

Sunday.

Richard Ramey, chair of the Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in

Disaster (VOAD), said the meeting will help to begin the exchange of

information, identification of problems and helping avoid duplication of

services. A meeting set for early next week, will discuss planning a

long-term recovery effort.

Deadly twisters capped a stormy winter night on Jan. 17 as 22 counties in

western Tennessee bore the brunt of high winds. The storms, which killed

eight people and injured more than 100, destroyed 258 homes, heavily

damaged another 1,195 residences and left scores of businesses needing

repairs, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Vice President Al Gore, whose mother grew up in Jackson, promised quick

federal aid, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency followed by

designating 12 counties -- Carroll, Crockett, Decatur, Dickson, Hardeman,

Haywood, Henderson, Lauderdale, Madison, Maury, Montgomery and Perry -- for

federal disaster aid.

Sunday's storms came almost a two years after another batch of winter

tornadoes ripped across the Tennessee landscape and nearly eight months to

the day, after twisters ravaged homes near Nashville.

Charles Moeller, a Church World Service (CWS) regional facilitator, expects

to be in Jackson early next week. It is too soon to predict the extent of

damage or unmet needs, but Moeller anticipates some type of faith-based

recovery group will be needed after the relief teams go home.

Davy Crockett penned Tennessee's nickname, "The Volunteer State;" 136 years

ago, but it was relief workers who lived-up to that reputation as they

reached out to Madison County families displaced by Sunday night's deadly

tornadoes.

"As the soon as the storm hit, volunteers started to show-up," said Harry

Myer, director of Jackson's Regional Inter-Faith Association (RIFA).

Teachers, who took advantage of an extra day off from school, and

volunteers from at least four Jackson churches, including, St. Mary's

Catholic Church, Calvary Baptist Church, Northside United Methodist Church,

filled RIFA's headquarters, an old laundry building that occupies a small

city block on North Highland Avenue near Jackson's Historic District.

The organization, established in 1976, also operates a food bank, senior

services, a soup kitchen, and a major community outreach program throughout

the year.

From dawn until dusk, they handed out food, clothing, bedding, and personal

hygiene supplies."We've been too busy to even keep track of statistics,"

Myers continued. "But we must have had at least 50 volunteers here today."

Jackson accountant Jeff Garner, a Calvary Baptist Church member, helped

receive, sort, and distribute food and clothing donations brought in by

agencies and private parties. "There was a whole crew of us, putting

together 45-pound cartons of food...with biscuit and cake mix, canned and

dried beans, cookies, fresh fruit, and loaves of bread. We gave around 40

to 50 cartons out today," he said yesterday.

The Tennessee Baptist Convention and the American Red Cross served some

2,000 hot meals on Wednesday, and officials expect those numbers to

increase as the volunteers find additional need, said Pat Parks, a mass

care assistant officer with the Red Cross. Woodland Baptist Church in

Jackson serves at the home kitchen for the operation.

No timetable is set for the food kitchen's service, but Parks said it would

continue as long as people need it.

Adventist Community Services also began establishing warehouse and

distribution sites for clothing and sundry items.

Dogs and cats were not forgotten either. Food and sanitation supplies

arrived on Monday and Tuesday to maintain 10 pets made homeless by the

storm. They are being sheltered at the humane society until temporary

homes can be located.

Garner has been a volunteer for several years, but was particularly moved

by what he has witnessed over the last 24 hours. "While it's really been

quite a tragedy, it's been a blessing to see the community pour out such

effort. It just doesn't make sense to stay home and watch television when

there's something more important to do." -- Michelle Tirado also

contributed to this story.

Posted Jan. 21, 1999


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