The following was written by our wonderful member Patty McGovern, who along with her family organized a donation drive for the tornado devastated regions of Alabama. The McGoverns recently left for Alabama in a donated 24 foot truck filled with relief supplies. See more pictures here.
When I turned the news on on the night of April 27 and saw that a violent deadly tornado was ripping through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, and continuing North East towards Gadsen and Anniston, I was in shock. My three kids and I had been visiting family in Randolph County, Alabama the week before and had only been back home in Round Hill, Va for a few days. I immediately began calling my Aunt and Uncle and had no luck reaching them. After not hearing a word from friends or family in Alabama all night, I tried for half the day on the 28th and finally reached my Aunt. The phones and power had been out all night in Randolph County and they had damaging winds, hail, and were under the tornado warning the whole night. Fortunately, Randolph County was spared.
Unfortunately, neighboring Calhoun County, along with 38 other counties from Tuscaloosa to Fort Payne were devasted. Having friends in the affected areas, I began seeing photos, videos, stories, cries for help, and offers of help emerging on Facebook. An Auburn University-based disaster relief organization called Toomer’s For Tuscaloosa was the first relief effort I began to see emerge, and within 24 hours the Facebook site had thousands of fans and today has more than 86,000 fans nationwide. Smaller, more localized groups then began emerging, relying on Toomer’s for immediate needs and updates. Because I had lived in Alabama for a few years and have loved ones there still, I wanted to do something to help. The Reverend Don Prange of St. James United Church of Christ in Lovettsville, of which my husband Bart, my daughters Abigail (9), Rachel (7), and my son Joseph (2) and I are members, inquired about my family. Upon telling him that they were safe and sound and expressing my desire to do something to help, Don immediately sent out the word that a major donation drive for needs and supplies was going to take place. VA for AL was born.
It really should be called Loudoun County for AL, but the name stuck, a logo was made, a facebook page was created and the word spread like wildfire. A 24 ft moving truck donated by SueEllen Lawton of Ashburn is being filled to capacity with donations of clothing, food, toys, toiletries and hygiene, diapers, bug spray and sunscreen, gatorade and water, and even major apliances such as a washer and dryer, refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher. As the word from St. James spread, local Loudoun businesses began to jump on board. For Goodness Sakes Natural Foods in Leesburg held a 2 week donation drive, Ashburn Pediatric Dental Center donated 1000 tubes of toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss, promoting the effort are Leesburg’s Cajun Man, Leesburg Midas, and in Purcellville: Darrell’s Barber Shop, Shamrock Music, Gruto’s Ice Cream, Re-Love It, White Palace, and It’s Bazaar on 21st Street, which is serving as a drop location. Special thanks as well to Round Hill’s own Brownie Girl Scout Troop 4693 for their amazing donation collection. We have also brought in approximately $400 in gas fund money from members of St. James and proceeds from my kids lemonade sale!
We are leaving on Wednesday June 22 for Alabama. You can see photos, stories, and updates of our journey by “Liking” us on Facebook at VA for AL. The Birmingham based Alabama’s Lost Toys will be receiving all of our toys for distribution. The small community of Webster’s Chapel in Calhoun County, a severely devestated and under-served community, will be receiving relief supplies as well as furnishings including major kitchen appliances for a family there who lost everything they owned. They finally have a trailor and are starting from scratch. The Martin Family (Kristie, her husband and her 10 year old daughter) in the community of Holt in Tuscaloosa County will receive care packages, a washing machine and other items. Holt is considered ground zero of Tuscaloosa County. I was able to speak to Kristie on the phone and the emotion and gratefulness in her voice was incredibly touching. We cried together and ended the conversation as if we’d known one another for 20 years. I am looking forward to meeting her in person! As for other areas, we have boxes and cases of cleaning supplies, gatorade, and specifically requested items for the Holt Relief Center to distribute throughout the community.
All of this has been happening as more storms hit areas in the south and midwest. Joplin, MO was devasted by a violent tornado shortly after our efforts began. Groups out of Alabama and all over the country began sending supplies. The largest distribution centers in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Al, that were already becoming inundated with certain things, began re-routing trucks to Joplin. In the days following, word out of Joplin was that only medically experienced civilians were being allowed in. We felt that continuing our relief efforts for the communities and families we are supporting in Alabama was the right thing to do. We continue to pray for the people of Joplin, Alabama, Okalahoma, Hamburg Iowa, and all the others who are suffering. What I have learned is that when disasters hit so close to the home and the heart, strangers suddenly become friends, neighbors get to know each other better, old friends become reconnected and the love just grows! I have met people whom I now consider friends and the support and unity so much of our country has shown through all of this gives me hope for the country my children will inherit.