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Hope is a powerful thing. Sometimes, even in the most dire of circumstances, it is knowing that you are not alone that gives you strength to face whatever comes next. After a catastrophic EF4 tornado hit Western Kentucky, emergency management staff were overwhelmed by the generosity of donations that poured in from across the nation. CAP was asked to manage the logistics of getting essentials to families in need. The tornado left tragedy in its wake with more than 70 dead, 12 counties impacted, and more than 12,000 families registered with FEMA for assistance.
“There was a large outpouring of donations to help families in the region. CAP coordinated volunteers who organized and distributed essentials as quickly as possible to address a variety of needs in the community,” said Robyn Renner, director of CAP’s Disaster Relief Program.
Renner is no stranger to disaster relief efforts and understood that this was a critical time for emergency management personnel who had to do the difficult work of search and rescue immediately following the 5 tornadoes that touched down in Western Kentucky with one wreaking havoc over 220 miles from Arkansas through Kentucky and Tennessee.
“It’s not just Disaster Relief, CAP’s Operation Sharing Program also transported numerous tractor trailer loads of donated items to impacted communities. We could not have done this without their support,” Renner said. “Whenever disaster strikes, Operation Sharing coordinates with partners to provide water, nonperishable food items, hygiene items, and other essentials.”
Operation Sharing logged 4,400 miles with our work in Bowling Green, Kentucky, including 47 individual trips to transport donated items to and from the regional distribution center and other smaller sites throughout the impacted states. This critical work helped get essential items to tornado victims, many who were impacted by their vehicles also being damaged during the tornadoes. Each week, Operation Sharing sent a forklift driver to assist with logistics at the Bowling Green Distribution Center.
Volunteers came from across Kentucky, as well as other states. Just over 500 volunteers, including CAP employees and volunteers, assisted 4,218 participants (1,533 households). This totaled more than 2,110 volunteer hours. Becky Neuenschwander, who coordinates CAP’s Missions Groups, assisted Renner with logistics at the distribution center.
“For me, it’s been eye opening. CAP being here has made a huge impact for the city of Bowling Green, especially for this distribution center,” Neuenschwander said. “We’re consistent and we show up every week with a team of 15-20 volunteers who are dedicated to getting the work done. We see what we can do to get more donations in and get the people what they need. It’s part of the CAP culture to go to wherever the need is and to find a way to be able to pivot and respond to that need.”
Renner is quick to remind supporters that a response to a disaster of this magnitude is a marathon and not a sprint.
“In the wake of such devastating natural disasters, our first concern is always for the people impacted. Every situation is different, and we assess each disaster, especially outside of Eastern Kentucky,” Renner added. “What we know is that natural disasters of this scale draw lots of media attention and assistance immediately following, but these communities will need assistance for months, even a year out.”
Even after a few weeks, Neuenschwander noted a difference in conversations and interactions with community members that come to the distribution center.
“Now they’re trying to deal with what has happened to them. They need support,” she added. “We try to put them with a counselor or clergy at the front desk because now they’re wanting to share their story and show you pictures, and just have someone to talk to about it. Some of them are just struggling to come to terms with what has happened and what the next step is.”
Community volunteers also became a part of the CAP family in helping survivors sign up for services and select needed essentials from the center. FEMA and Red Cross were also housed in the same facility which provided a one-stop emergency assistance hub.
“I’ve gotten so much from my community. I feel like I am doing what God asked to pay it forward,” said Johnalma Barnett, a retired logistics manager with Western Kentucky University and volunteer at the distribution center. “If you didn’t have any damage at all, then you’re blessed. It’s a chance to bless someone else. We just need to help each other.”
If you would like to get involved, CAP is always in need of volunteers. If you would rather contribute a donation of material goods, you can donate directly or visit christianapp.org/ways-give to learn more about all the ways you can be of service.