Community pulls together to help Alabama families after recent tornados

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When tornadoes ripped through portions of Alabama last month, the city of Tuscaloosa – home to the University of Alabama – was hit particularly hard.

As the cleanup began, volunteers and donations from all over the country began to pour into the area, helping to provide needed supplies to families who had lost everything.

That sense of “helping your neighbor” reached here to Southeastern Indiana last week, as the entire area rallied together to help fill a rental truck with supplies. The effort was coordinated by the Welch family, and members of the family delivered the supplies to Tuscaloosa last week and then spent the week helping with the continuing cleanup.

Working on a short timeline, the Welch family tried to get word out of their pending trip as quickly as possible, and once people heard of the mission, donations began to pour in from all over the region. Individuals, organizations, and churches all pitched in to fill the 26-foot rental truck to the top; and monetary donations also went to Alabama to make purchases for more immediate needs while there.

Tammy Welch headed up the effort to make the trip, and was accompanied by her mother-in-law Johanna Welch; niece April (Welch) Shepherd; nephew Daniel Welch; and Tammy’s eight-year old daughter, Julianna. Eric Welch assumed the task of truck driver, and also spent a couple of days before returning home at mid-week.

The donations overwhelmed the family, as plans had to be made to rent a larger truck in order to haul all of the items; and volunteers came to the Welch home to help load the supplies before the group left.

“We had great support for this trip,” Tammy Welch said, “And the people of Tuscaloosa were very, very grateful.”

Tammy Welch said that large numbers of volunteers had already been in Tuscaloosa, and volunteers as well as civic leaders had been working hard to find families displaced by the tornado housing and supplies so they could try and begin the process of returning to a normal life.

“When we left Tuscaloosa, the Red Cross only had one emergency shelter still up and going, and there were 104 people there the night before,” Tammy Welch said. “The city has gotten people placed in housing and apartments, so they were down to just one center.”

The Welches said that as they left Alabama late last week, a long stream of traffic was headed south into the area – more volunteers who were willing to give up their weekends in order to help others.

The Cross Plains Church of Christ was a major supporter here of the trip; and when the team arrived in Tuscaloosa, they worked with the Central Church of Christ there. Although the congregation had lost its church building to the tornado, tents had been erected at the church site to provide outreach – physical and spiritual – to the people of the community. Along with the Indiana crew, the Welches worked with volunteers from as far away as Florida and Texas, all with the common goal of helping others.

“The Church of Christ was running its own relief center,” Tammy Welch said. “They were feeding the people. Supplying them with any type of need they had, from baby formula to food and water. They were also spiritually feeding the people, because they had to sign in, and once they did the men of the church were going out into the community and talk to the people. They had four baptisms since the tornado.”

A billboard in front of the church site kept track of the number of people who had come through the relief center since the tornado hit. Starting the day after, more than 250,000 people have come through the church’s relief center for meals.

One of the issues that the team found upon arriving in Tuscaloosa was that large amounts of supplies were already coming into the area – so many in fact that there was a shortage of manpower and volunteers to take the supplies out to those who needed them. The local team didn’t want to place more of a burden on already overworked people, so they spent much of their time taking supplies directly to those in need.

The Welch family also worked at the Holt relief center. The community of Holt, a suburb of Tuscaloosa, suffered major damage from the tornado.

At the Holt center, the local team was able to take their items from their truck and deliver it directly to the people.

Johanna Welch spent her week working at the supply tent at the Central Church of Christ, helping with distribution to those in need; while Daniel Welch and April Shepherd actually were a part of a crew that went out to a job site during one of the days to help clean up with debris. Tammy and Julianna Welch worked at the Central Church of Christ relief center; and also worked a day at the Holt relief center. During the time Eric Welch was there, he worked to deliver supplies to the relief centers.

There were also two ladies who had suffered loss from the tornado, and Eric, Daniel, and April worked to help them specifically get back on their feet. One of the ladies was living in a hotel; while the other was living in her condemned home.

All of the family members also checked in with the Red Cross shelter, working to provide needed items.

“With all of the money that the people sent with us, we would go out at night and buy things that people needed at the shelter,” Tammy Welch said. “We would work during the day, then at night we would check and see what was low in the supply tent, and we would go out and get whatever products they were out of and there was a need.”

The last thing that the Welches did before they left Tuscaloosa to return home was to take the remaining money that had been donated here and purchase gas cards for the relief shelter to distribute to those in need.

One the lasting images for everyone who went on the trip was the massive amounts of destruction that they saw. Tammy Welch said that even if volunteers stayed a month, they would still leave thinking that they should stay a few more days to provide more help. The ongoing effort, at times, seems endless.

“We scratched the surface; but there are many, many other people out there who have that compassion, and if they can scratch the surface, everyone can make a big impact,” Tammy Welch said.

Now that they have returned from Alabama, those who went are still overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that came from this entire area of the state and from across the river in Kentucky.

“I’m just so grateful for everything,” Tammy Welch said. “Organizations and individuals who jumped onboard in a week’s time and got all of those supplies together. It was just very impressive to see all of the support and help. Everyone stepped in and lent a helping hand, and it ended up being quite a bit.”