Mending lives in Tennessee

BY JIM SKILLINGTON | NASHVILLE, TN | May 15, 1998


NASHVILLE, TN (May 15, 1998) -- Six Nashville area executives donned jeans and work clothes recently so

they could volunteer their time to help clean up a

neighborhood devastated by two April 16 tornadoes.

Driving farm tractors and using chain saws, the six spent several hours

one Saturday clearing logs and stumps from a neighborhood yard. When they were

finished, the homeowner told them she had been given an estimate of more

than $6,000 to do the work. "I couldn't have afforded to have the work

done at that rate," she said later.

In addition to contributing their time at that house and several others,

when they left, the executives also shared a cash donation they had

collected at their church, to be used for relief efforts.

While the work of most of the thousands of volunteers who have helped clean

up East Nashville during the past two weeks has not always been so directly

connected to cost savings, local residents say they have been overwhelmed

by the response.

"Thank you, volunteers," read signs that are springing up around the

neighborhoods. "Thanks to your help volunteers, we'll be back!" is spray

painted on the gaping inside wall of one largely destroyed home.

The youth group from Belle Meade United Methodist Church (UMC) in western

Nashville, has spent several Sunday afternoons clearing the debris from

trees that have fallen in the yards of East Nashville residents. As they

cleared the backyard of a disabled resident recently, the homeowner said,

"Until they came, I thought I had been forgotten. I didn't know what I was

going to do."

In previous years, said a youth group coordinator, the organization has

spent several weeks each summer on mission trips away from home. This year,

he said, "we're making plans to keep coming to help, out here."

Meanwhile, a few homeowners have already begun repairs. Here and there

amongst a literal sea of blue plastic tarps covering roofs and upper

stories of many homes, a roof is being replaced or a porch has obviously

just been completed. But in most instances, residents are waiting for

insurance company benefits or in cases where their homes were not insured,

to see if they qualify for government assistance.

The East Nashville area struck by the storms is a transitional

neighborhood. It includes both historic homes and 30 to 40 year-old

suburban developments. During recent years, young families have begun

buying and improving the condition of homes in the neighborhoods. Due to

this influx of residents, many of the established churches are reporting

membership gains for the first time in decades.

A significant number of the residents of the older homes are elderly

residents living on fixed incomes who don't have mortgages. Unfortunately,

disaster relief officials say, some of these residents have cancelled

homeowners insurance to save money.

During the next few weeks, volunteers from faith-based disaster

organizations will attempt to identify tornado victims who do not have

insurance or have inadequate insurance, or need other services. Several

organizations including the Church World Service, the United Methodist

Committee on Relief, the Christian Reformed Church (CRWRC), Disciples of

Christ, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the United Church of Christ,

have

already announced plans to send volunteers and/or contributions to assist

in the relief efforts.

Representatives of a number of faith-based organizations are in the

process of creating a new Interfaith to assist tornado victims. Lanny

Lawler, a Disciples of Christ pastor in East Nashville will head the

Nashville Interfaith Disaster Relief Organization that will coordinate

long-term disaster response efforts.

Thanks to the number of volunteers, the kind of response needed for storm

victims now has changed from the kinds of assistance provided in the days

immediately following the disaster when local churches and other relief

organizations provided food and supplies to residents and volunteers.

In a unique service, Boy Scouts from a troop sponsored by Dalewood UMC,

camped on the church lawn and served coffee and snacks to relief workers

throughout the nights. During the day for more than a week following the

tornadoes, church members served 2,500 meals for area residents.

At the Church of Christ, Thomas Snow, pulpit minister, and his congregation

spent the days after the tornadoes distributing more than 500 boxes of food

and feeding the community at its soup kitchen -- feeding 675 the first day

alone. The Church, like many other groups, is also providing other aid,

such as helping clear yards, finding lost pets, putting plastic on roofs

and offering counseling.

"We helped one man, him and his son lived in the house, who had his roof

taken off and all his windows blown out by the tornado," said Snow. "We

sent a food box to his house and a cleaning crew. When the people who were

cleaning up the yard took a break,the man came out with a Polaroid camera

to take their picture. He was so grateful. He told them, 'I always want to

remember you.'"

-- Sandra Mardenfeld also contributed to this story

Updated May 15, 1998


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