It took only hours for people in Cleveland and Bradley County to begin working together to help the many in the community devastated by last Wednesday’s tornado outbreak.
Without those individuals, churches, schools groups and others — all volunteers — offering such quick response, many victims would not have received the immediate assistance they needed.
One week after the deadly outbreak of storms, these efforts are being coordinated by three local groups — not in an effort to hinder other volunteer efforts, but to make sure assistance gets to those who need it without duplicating services.
“Initially we were just in a response phase and we needed every breathing body who responded, those who came in here and others, because there was so much to be done,” said Ruthie Forgey, corps administrator for the Salvation Army in Cleveland. “Now, we need to coordinate where the volunteers go just a little better because the urgent response has passed and now we have moved into a long-term recovery.”
Forgey acknowledges there are still areas of the county where food and supplies are needed, and other areas where trees need to be cut and structures repaired for safety’s sake. Volunteers continue to provide these services and have been asked to do so through this coordinated plan.
The Salvation Army is coordinating the volunteers wishing to help in the community while the Hiwassee Chapter of the American Red Cross is coordinating hot meal delivery in affected areas. The Bradley Baptist Association is coordinating those volunteers helping in cleanup and clearing efforts, from those wielding chainsaws to help clear downed trees to those moving brush away from homes and other areas, and those providing home repairs.
The group is providing badges to volunteers so those in affected areas know they are authorized to be there. All it takes is for these volunteers to let the Salvation Army know how they wish to help, and if in a specific area, where that may be.
Kyle Barrett, a Lee University senior scheduled to graduate in December, said an email went out through the Lee student body on Thursday saying the Salvation Army would need volunteers. He learned the importance of being able to show the victims he was authorized to be there as he spoke with many of them in the Bell Road and Outlet Road areas near Dalton Pike.
“They were devastated, to say the least,” he remembered. “Most have been very happy to see us, but some were a bit wary of folks coming into their neighborhoods, so we have begun distributing badges to Salvation Army volunteers, so (these victims) are not so apprehensive about people they don’t know wanting to help.”
These badges make clear a volunteer is affiliated with one of the three organizations heading the combined relief efforts: the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross’ Hiwassee Chapter and the Bradley Baptist Association.
Julia Wright, executive director for the Hiwassee Chapter of the American Red Cross, said there have been so many who want to provide help in this crisis. She said she appreciates those who sprang into action so quickly, and now, it is time to coordinate those efforts through these three organizations.
“We are not telling anyone not to help, just that we need to do this in a structured way,” she said. “One of the things that we realized real quickly is when you have a situation like this, on this scale, you need a lot of folks, and this community rallied to help with hundreds of folks getting involved.”
Victoria Ware is one of those American Red Cross volunteers who has a medical background, serving as a registered nurse. She is also familiar with weather-related incidents, having been employed in hurricane-affected areas around Texas and Mississippi. She has been working as a volunteer with the Hiwassee Chapter since last fall.
“I have actually been out on some fire calls with the Red Cross, but have never experienced working this close to something like this (level of disaster),” she said. “I have been working at the shelter, and lately I have been working at the Red Cross on logistics.”
The Hiwassee Chapter’s service of responding to home fires is funded through the United Way of Bradley County. Brenda Abel, United Way of Bradley County president and CEO, said she is proud to see the agency working with others in the community to provide services following the tornadoes.
“We never expect to have something so devastating, so tragic, occur in our community, but I am glad that we have such great organizations, as well as such a great volunteer spirit, so those in need are helped,” she said. “Not only has the Hiwassee Chapter helped with opening the shelter at St. Therese Catholic Church, but several of our other funded agencies and those receiving grants from the Bradley Memorial Health Endowment Fund are helping in our community.”
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland has opened the Tucker Unit from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the Bradley-Cleveland Community Services Agency has provided the Cleveland Emergency Shelter as a site for victims of the tornadoes to eat and/or shower, while also providing manpower.
The Cleveland Family YMCA has also been providing shower facilities to those who are still without power after the storms. Even the Family Resource Agency has provided office space for the principal of Michigan Avenue Elementary School while he’s developed plans for the last few weeks of school.
“It is great to see so many want to help,” Abel added.
Ware said those who have been volunteering to help during the aftermath of the tornadoes are seeing many emotions from so many, and they are being affected as well.
“You could tell that everyone is coping, but you could tell that they were still pretty much in the shock mode,” Ware said of when she first started working with local victims. “People are just now sitting back and realizing what kind of issues there are ... I am seeing a lot of that even with our volunteers.”
Forgey said she too notices how those volunteering in the field are being affected by what they see, but knows that they will continue to help our community. She encourages anyone who wishes to help to contact the Salvation Army or either of the other two organizations.
“We as people of faith and as Christians are commissioned to be the hands and feet of Christ and to be his body in action,” she said. “And what I have seen in the last few days is that everyone has worked so well together from the service organizations to the volunteers to just anybody and everybody that could do anything and I thought ... how beautiful is the body of Christ.”
To learn more about these volunteer opportunities, contact the Salvation Army at 423-308-3467, the American Red Cross Hiwassee Chapter at 423-472-1595 or the Bradley Baptist Association at 423-476-5493.