A part of my heart will always remain in Dixie, in my second home, "Sweet Home Alabama." When the tornados hit Alabama on April 27th, it was devastating; but disasters have a way of bringing out the absolute best in people. Citizens from many states are coming together to help Alabama. The camaraderie and resilience of the people is stronger in Dixie than anywhere I’ve been.
The tornado that went through Alabama was more powerful than hurricane Katrina! It made its scary path through the center of Tuscaloosa where I went to college at the University of Alabama. Watching the news reports with my husband in disbelief, we kept checking in with our friends to make sure everyone was safe. Some of our friends lost their homes and possessions; some even lost their loved ones. More than 340 people were killed. The wind speeds reached about 200 miles per hour, more than 85 mph faster than an average racer in a NASCAR race. Houses vanished, thousands were injured and left homeless, the Tuscaloosa I remember is gone, and I don’t even recognize what remains. It looks like somebody bombed 15th Street where I lived at the University Downs apartments.
Like many others both with and without specific ties to Alabama, when we recovered from the shock and awe, our first thought was “How can we help?”
Living in the South, you learn about having a “safe-place” with your family, what funnel and wall clouds are, and you learn how to do tornado drills in school curling up into a little ball away from windows tucking your head and covering it with a thick textbook. We might get used to hearing the sirens and not experiencing a tornado. Then when the real thing happens, you know what to do but are never really prepared.
Photo: The tornado charging 15th Street at University Downs Apartments.
Good things are happening as a result of this tragedy. Country music star Brad Paisley is donating all royalties from sales of his single Old Alabamato the Red Cross tornado relief. The University of Alabama athletics department is contributing one million to the UA acts of kindness fund established by the University to aid students, faculty and staff who were impacted by the tornado. Prom dresses were sent to high school senior girls so they might have a normal ending to the year. The best part is that citizens across the United States are coming together to raise money and help the all the storm victims, especially those in Alabama in those areas where the state was hit the hardest.
Alabama and Auburn are also coming together and setting aside the football holy war that is more primal than anything else in college sports. This time, the war in Dixie wasn’t about football; tragedy brought the teams together in the most heartwarming way. It’s become “Roll Eagle” and “War Tide” for the GREAT state of Alabama. Recently when an Alabama man poisoned trees in Auburn, the Crimson Tide fans expressed their disgust and created a fund to save or replant the oaks. These acts of kindness are remembered forever. When something like this happens, people forget all their petty differences.
A Dallas group, With Love from Texas, spent the weekend organizing a truck with items for the tornado victims. As I carried in my first load of items that children from my school, friends, and family members who wanted to help donated, I was hit by waves of emotion. Everybody there was wearing an Alabama shirt, had huge welcoming smiles, saying “Roll Tide y’all,” and seemed so happy to be there helping. It was definitely one of the best things I’ve done all year. Some of the nicest people in the world are from Alabama! That’s why Texas loves Alabama! It was a little overwhelming but tears I cried were happy!
Diaper drives, food drives, fundraisers are going on all over the country. What looked like a traffic tie-up from a football weekend was actually volunteers coming from all over to help. Organizations like Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse are organizing aid. The last time the Red Cross had set up such an elaborate system of shelters was after Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Walt Maddox, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, President Obama, even actor Charlie Sheen are all doing a great job bringing attention to Alabama.
Do you want to know how you can help? Get involved by checking in on one of the sites above and see what’s needed that you can provide. Volunteers from all over are helping organize clothes, food, baby items…What they need most are our prayers and our donations; money may be more helpful than supplies. Think about the children. I asked my friend who teaches in Tuscaloosa how we could help, she mentioned how they will need to buy all new computers for their schools. An easy thing that all schools could do is a coin drop; have children bring in loose change to raise money for Alabama schools. There are endless opportunities, just dive in and do it! Just like Big Al the Alabama elephant mascot, an elephant never forgets! Alabama’s gets a little stronger every day and will be even stronger tomorrow with the help of good citizens. I think it may be true that helping helps the giver as much as the person receiving assistance. Give it a try and see if you agree!
Photos: My friend Carrie Turner, a social worker and native Alabamian, volunteering with Charlie Sheen. Pictures below show the devastation of Tuscaloosa.