A Life Affirming Partnership

More than 60 tornados struck Alabama communities late last April, leaving widespread destruction and killing 248 people. Afterwards businesses, nonprofits and concerned individuals jumped in to help pick up the pieces and restore some normalcy to the lives of tornado survivors.

Tuscaloosa, one of the hardest hit areas, saw 6, 000 of its residences and businesses destroyed and much of its emergency response infrastructure and resources obliterated. Fortunately, the area has received an outpouring of support. “To see members of this community pull together to help others has been both inspiring and life affirming. It’s a testimony to the human spirit, ” said Terry Waters, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, which has taken an active role in the tornado recovery.

Chamber leadership and staff have facilitated various community partnerships to assist. Chamber members have volunteered their time and provided donations to get the city and affected residents back on track. The Chamber Foundation, which set up the Tuscaloosa Disaster Relief Fund at www.givetuscaloosa.com, has raised about $2 million in donations.

“Mayor Walt Maddox and City of Tuscaloosa leadership asked us to set up the fund and take an active role in the recovery. We are happy to be of support, ” Waters said. The largest contribution to the chamber’s disaster relief fund thus far has been an initial donation of $800, 000 from Mercedes-Benz U.S. International. The company, one of the largest employers in Tuscaloosa County, also contributed $200, 000 toward relief efforts in Jefferson County.

Funds are being distributed to vetted 501(c)(3) nonprofits with boards through an application process. Smaller nonprofits are being encouraged to partner with more established nonprofits that can provide proper oversight for fund usage. “The Chamber doesn’t have case workers and isn’t set up to be able to distribute funds for individual needs. We are relying on nonprofits to do that, ” Waters said.

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Among nonprofits awarded grants from the fund include Calvary Baptist Church, Forest Lake Baptist Church, Temporary Emergency Services and the West Alabama Food Bank.
Other tornado recovery funds have been established by West Alabama groups including the Red Cross, Salvation Army and United Way. The City of Tuscaloosa is taking donations to help restore vital city infrastructure that was destroyed.

As part of the initial tornado recovery response, the American Red Cross West Alabama Chapter set up a disaster relief shelter at the Belk Center to assist tornado victims. Area restaurants donated meals to feed those who gathered at the shelter from April 27 through June 10. “Having restaurants provide a delicious hot meal was a great comfort to those the Red Cross served, ” said Suzanne Horsley, assistant professor of advertising and public relation at the University of Alabama. Horsley serves as a volunteer spokesperson for the West Alabama Red Cross chapter.

Other area companies sent employees to volunteer in various Red Cross and other nonprofit efforts. Mercedes-Benz employees, for example, prepared and served food and kept the facilities clean at the Red Cross Belk Center relief shelter. They provided fund-raising support, transported donations and shelter residents and served as translators for Spanish speakers. Mercedes-Benz employees were also sent to Pleasant Grove, Birmingham, Alberta, and Pratt City to help out.

“Nonprofits couldn’t do all they do without the support of businesses. It’s a vital partnership, ” Horsley said.

By Kathy Hagood

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