Church concluding tornado relief efforts

Published 4:20 pm Thursday, June 21, 2012

Workers clean debris from a property in Verbena after a tornado in March.

A group of people led by members of Verbena United Methodist Church will meet Saturday morning to work at the home of a family affected by a tornado on March 2.

That people are still in the process of recovering three months later illustrates the damage caused by the storm, especially considering the amount of diligent work that has been put in.

Verbena Methodist Church and its minister, Steve Reneau, want to see the effort through to its conclusion. Disasters usually result in an immediate flood of support, but the support dwindles as the days, weeks and months drag on.

Verbena UMC is still helping, and local organizations are still helping the church. The Rotary Club of Chilton County recently made a $500 donation to the effort ($250 was donated by the Prattville Rotary Club, and the Chilton County club matched that amount).

A tornado 700 yards across and packing winds up to 125 miles an hour tore through Verbena on March 2, a Friday, destroying or damaging 13 homes.

Alabama Power and various volunteer fire departments immediately began clearing paths to homes, so emergency responders could get in and residents could get out.

“We had Sunday worship, and after the final blessing, we sat down and had a meeting where we laid the groundwork for Monday being the first day of the recovery effort,” Reneau said. “We quickly wanted it to be known that we were not going to just be helping church members; we were going to help anyone who was affected.”

About 100 volunteers from across the state came to help, including groups from Auburn, Dothan and Wetumpka. Locally, more than 50 people worked. Many other organizations donated money, including Trinity Episcopal Church, Boy Scouts Tukabatchee Area Council, Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, Walnut Creek UMC, First UMC of Clanton, Portland (Fla.) UMC, Mulder Memorial UMC and Lime Springs UMC.

Reneau gave special credit to the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa, a group from Auburn that was formed to help with relief from the April 2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa.

“I don’t think we would have been able to do what we did without the foundation they laid, and the foundation the United Methodist Church already had in place,” Reneau said.

The first step was clearing debris. Much debris was cleared, but after it became clear the event wouldn’t receive a disaster declaration, private lots had to be secured to burn the debris.

A food pantry was set up at the church to feed those affected, plus provide meals for workers. Reneau said the church was preparing 30-50 lunches a day during the height of the work. Free psychological counseling was set up.

“We wanted to help people physically, mentally and spiritually,” Reneau said. “We weren’t shy about the fact that we were Christians, but we were there to work.”

Reneau estimated $7,200 has been donated, with help going to 12-15 households. A mobile home was purchased and furnished for a family that lost its home.

“We’re happy we’re about to be done,” Reneau said. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to put things back the way they were, but we wanted them to know there was somebody there for them.”