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Kentucky by Heart: Recent tornados in Western Kentucky bring out the best in our fellow Kyians

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

The rude December 10-11 intrusion of the ferocious weather damage visited upon the lives of western Kentucky communities was terrible, but the catastrophe also is bringing the best out of fellow Kentuckians. Following are some examples I found perusing newspapers and hearing from friends, though they might well represent only a few grains of sand in a large sandbox; there are many more stories that could be told, with developing ones coming for the future.

I’ll start with my own Woodford County community, where cattle farmer Greg Dotson is raffling a quarter beef from his stock to raise money for tornado relief. So far, the raffle proceeds stand at more than $63,000. One person gave $5,000. The county’s main food pantry contributed 5,108 pounds of food as well as personal care items as part of an amazing county-wide effort, where schools, fire stations and local first responders helped fill buses with donated supplies.

Helpers at Dayspring Outreach Center in Dawson Springs (Photo courtesy of Dayspring Assembly of God)

According to an article in The Lexington Herald-Leader, Bremen, a town of a few hundred in Muhlenberg County, is asking for people to call before they donate anything else because they’ve gotten so much support. That said, an official said that they weren’t “turning anybody away, or anything away.” Mayor Allen Miller is leading the logistics of the response from the town’s fire department. The reporter remarked that on the day he was there, “excavators and other commercial equipment were seen coming and going from the city limits as volunteers showed up to help clean up and haul away debris.” As of December 14, eleven residents had died in the 4000-person fire district, an especially tough gut punch for citizens of such a small community.

Lo-Rae’s Shaved Ice, a business in Nicholasville, loaned out its concession trailer to be used for serving meals to the impacted in Mayfield. The Kentucky Veteran & Patriot Museum received supplies at its location in Wickliffe and drove them to Mayfield for dispersal at the Northside Church of Christ there. The Church in Camner, in Hart County, opened their youth building “to help anyone in the community who has a need due to the recent tornado damage.”

The Kentucky Humane Society is helping unite animals in the tornado-damaged area with their owners and are taking financial donations to help in the endeavor. Infinity Farms, a “farm to fork” restaurant in the town of La Center, in Ballard County, is supplying food and other items to those impacted. Not far from that location, the Cayce Baptist Church distributes monetary donations to affected individuals and families through their CBC Tornado Relief Fund, 41 Holly Circle, Fulton, Kentucky 42041.

A McDonald’s restaurant in Mayfield served approximately 2300 free meals in the area, using its “McRig” truck to serve cheeseburgers, French fries, apple slices, and bottled water or orange juice.

Brandon and Danielle Schabel, of Jeffersontown, found a photo of a toddler sitting on a man’s lap riding a tractor. Thinking it to be something important to someone, the Schabels posted the picture on Facebook and within 45 minutes, it was identified as belonging to someone in Madisonville—about 150 miles away. Brandon found that the toddler was now about 30 after the two made contact.

The children of Meagan Kubala, of Erlanger, saved up a part of their allowance all year to give to a good cause. When the Kentucky tornadoes hit, they knew what their cause would be. They took their money to Walmart and bought items to send to those impacted.

Duncan Prescription Center, a drugstore in Mayfield, lost everything in the recent tornado. With the help of a lot of supporters, they were able to move to a new location and opened to serve customers in 83 hours. A spokesman for the store stated: “This wouldn’t have happened without massive manpower from every single employee we have, their families, and close friends who never left us. We are eternally grateful!”

Laura Shine, 3-6 afternoon host on radio station 91.9 WFPK, in Louisville, announced that there will be a concert on January 1 raising money for the Muhlenberg County Disaster and Team Western Kentucky relief funds. The event, taking place at The Burl, in Lexington, will be livestreamed simultaneously by Oh Boy Records. It will feature performances by artists with close ties to the area. More details are available at wfpk.org.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

The Dayspring Assembly of God, in Dawson Springs, established the Dayspring Outreach Center to serve the needs of those in town after the devastation. A spokesperson for the outreach said: “The DOC community has worked tirelessly this past week to help families in need through both clean-up and recovery efforts at home sites and through the establishment of a distribution center on 119 S. Main Street to provide essential items for those in need.”

Chris Holtmann, the Ohio State basketball coach, is a native of Nicholasville. He asked, through a tweet, for OSU fans to contribute to the Kentucky United Telethon fundraiser. He praised UK coach John Calipari for the efforts his team and followers are giving to help.

Called the “Stuff the Bus” campaign, over 30 Kentucky school districts participated in sending supplies, including toys for children, to Morgantown, in Butler County, to be stored for use in the following months for tornado relief. About 70 buses, trailers, and vans transported the donated items on December 20. The initiative began in a simple way when Greenup County Superintendent Traysea Moresea called a Vanceburg, Kentucky, general contractor and asked how they might collaborate to offer help.

The Mayfield Health and Rehabilitation took a direct tornado hit. The heroic actions of staff members likely saved lives or protected the 74 nursing home residents from serious injury. Following is a list of noble acts of Kentuckians, according to an article by Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Beth Musgrave:

• a social worker threw her body over a nearby resident to protect against flying debris

• a maintenance man wrestled part of a wall off a resident

• workers went from room to room, “assessing patients and moving those to areas of the facility were not damaged”

• they made dry socks, blankets, emergency water, and snacks available after the storm passed

• buses from local organizations were volunteered for transporting residents out of the building to secure places

• one nursing assistant spent most of the night helping to transfer residents and came back at 5:30 a.m. to ask about what still-standing nursing homes she could go to help next

• people in pickup trucks showed up to help the group find and transfer residents’ belongings and salvage what was left from the nursing home

Linda Blackford, of the Herald Leader, wrote about Natalie Winn, a teacher, youth minister, and mother. She led a Graves County effort to first, identify all who were directly impacted by the tornados and second, Natalie explained, “make sure they (their children) had the best Christmas they ever had.” She, along with a church member of hers and family resource center coordinators, came up with 375 families having about 1000 kids in total. Donated toys and gift cards were distributed at the Graves County Middle School gym, and many volunteers helped. Natalie’s efforts were separate from the toy initiative by First Lady Britainy Beshear, one mostly focused on helping those housed at state parks.

While we can always find people of less compassionate natures in our midst, the state is a “Kentucky by Heart” kind of place, for which we can justifiably feel proud. I’m hoping that a sense of unity we now show demonstrate can filter into all areas of our lives.

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