The Salvation Army responds to extensive tornado damage across Mississippi
By: Michelle Hartfield
Meals served with a side of prayer
A series of tornadoes ripped through the state of Mississippi on Friday, March 24, causing damage across a 200-mile path. By the morning of Saturday, March 25, The Salvation Army mobilized teams to assess the damage and to begin distributing meals, snacks, and water to survivors and first responders.
Units were stationed in Rolling Fork, Silver City, Winona, and Amory. In addition to meal service, The Salvation Army Emergency and Disaster Services contributed over 1400 shelf-stable meals and palettes of water to community distribution centers for residents to pick up as needed.
“The Salvation Army had boots on the ground serving meals in four different communities in less than 24 hours,” said William Trueblood, director of emergency of disaster services for The Salvation Army. “We have four more units on standby for a continued response. We are working closely with our partners to ensure we do our part to restore sense and normalcy to the lives that have been turned upside down by these events.”
In Rolling Fork, where a majority of the damage and deaths occurred, entire neighborhoods were leveled. Shell-shocked survivors sorted through rubble and cleared trees and debris from the roads. One survivor, Ms. Paulette, was overwhelmed, sitting on the porch in front of what used to be her home. “There is just nothing left,” she whispered with tears rolling down her face. “I have a 12-year-old daughter, and I don’t know where we will sleep tonight.”
Captain Heather Dolby spoke of her experience praying with an extended family of relatives who had all traveled in to assist their aunt.
“In times of disaster, we often focus on the survivors, but we forget about the supporters who are there to help their family and friends who have lost everything,” she said. “To be able to pray not just for survivors but for their supporters was an amazing gift, and I’m so thankful for it.”
Emotional and Spiritual Care is an important part of disaster response for The Salvation Army. Beyond the immediate visible effects, survivors can experience emotional stress and trauma. Whether through a shoulder for crying, an ear for listening, or just a moment of prayer, The Salvation Army is ready to help.
Loaves and fishes in the Mississippi Delta
The Mississippi Delta is a beautiful place full of history and vibrant communities. When tornadoes ripped across the entire state Friday night, many of these communities were thrown into chaos. What followed is an example of humanity and southern hospitality at its finest.
When Salvation Army units deployed to the communities of Blackhawk and Summerfield, crew members discovered a distribution center that was not an official distribution center at all.
Renee, a longtime resident of Blackhawk, explained. “Loaves and Fishes. That’s the best way to sum it up. Ms. Ailene came out here yesterday with 25 biscuits and water, and it has grown from there.”
Inspired by one person intending to serve only breakfast, community members started to bring donations. Now, there are multiple tents providing any number of necessities and caravans of all-terrain vehicles taking coolers of ice and supplies to people still trapped by impassible roads and unable to drive out.
Ailene Downs, whose breakfast offering inspired the “distribution center,” said, “This is a community that loves their people. We are small but mighty. This is an outpouring of love like I have never seen before.”
Mayor Washington Bell of Summerville was one of the leaders to request meals from The Salvation Army to add to this community effort. “It’s sad that this is necessary, but its amazing to see the community come together like this.”
“The community response has been truly inspirational,” said Trueblood. “We are blessed to be a part of this. We hate that we have to do it, but we love that we get to.”
The Salvation Army will continue to assess community needs and respond to requests from MEMA and other partners to ensure survivors have their immediate needs met.
You can support these efforts by visiting helpsalvationarmy.org or by texting MSTornadoes to 51555.