Late on Dec. 10, devastation swept through western Kentucky as multiple tornados decimated communities and left many people homeless or dead.
Recognizing the scope of the tragedy and motivated to help our Southern neighbors, scores of Tri-State businesses, nonprofits, and community organizations have worked tirelessly this week to provide relief to those near the Interstate 69 corridor who were affected by the tornados.
Members of Evansville’s West Side Nut Club were brainstorming ways to help out nearby Kentucky communities Saturday morning once the storm had settled and the widespread wreckage became clear. After speaking with Bremen, Kentucky, mayor Allen Miller, Nut Club members Mark DeCamps and Jim Johnson made a plan to travel to the town Monday, with Johnson feeding volunteers plates of barbecue and DeCamps helping with cleanup.
But after word got out within Nut Club circles, plans snowballed and suddenly the club was collecting donations, gathering excavating equipment, and rounding up nearly 100 volunteers.
“Within a matter of a day, it went from two guys going to a hundred guys going,” says DeCamps. “It was a last-minute thing, but the one thing that everybody shared in common is that they wanted to contribute. They wanted to do something help those people.”
A donation drive Saturday organized by member Brandon Julian raised $5,000 within a few hours, along with bundles of water, clothing, blankets, feminine products, and diapers.
At 5:30 a.m. Monday, the team departed Evansville for the 60-mile trek to Bremen, taking back routes to avoid debris that had not yet been cleared from the roads.
By 7 a.m., the volunteers had arrived and were split into two crews to assist with relief.
“We had the cooking crew that Jim Johnson was doing, I think they cooked 40 or 50 pork butts and made over 2,000 meals that day,” says DeCamps. “And then the rest of us were on cleanup crew, and they dispatched us to a number of locations around the city. We were doing things like trying to get all the debris from the fields and yards and get it brought to the side of the road to where it could be hauled off in dump trucks.”
While clearing out the debris, DeCamps says the carnage volunteers saw was heartbreaking. Houses were completely gone, ripped from their foundations. Twisted metal frames from mobile homes were scattered across nearby fields.
“This one story we were told there was (that) a five-month-old baby was killed, and the father was in the hospital with a broken neck and the mother was in the hospital paralyzed, and it was just heartbreaking stuff,” he says. “When you hear those stories, it makes you sad, but it also makes you appreciate that you’re doing something to help those people.”
“I could see a devastated church there that was roofless, and a wall busted out,” says Nut Club President Mark Schoenbaum. “I could see homes that were torn up.”
Around 4:30 p.m., the Nut Clubbers had finished their day’s work and headed home to Evansville, recognizing there was still plenty of work to do before the community could get back on its feet.
“I felt like we didn’t even scratch the surface,” says Schoenbaum. “There’s just so much damage down there. There’s just so much damage and they need so much help.”
DeCamps says they have already started discussions about traveling to Dawson Springs, Kentucky, next Monday to volunteer. The Nut Club will host a donation drive Saturday from noon-6 p.m. in the Acorn Plaza across the street from Gerst Haus on West Franklin Street. Off-duty members of the Evansville Police and Fire departments and Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office have been invited to join them.
“Next week is going to be 10 times what this week was,” says DeCamps. “It’s right before Christmas, and everybody wants to help out.”
Other Local Relief Efforts:
More Tri-State groups banded together for tornado relief throughout Kentucky. Nonprofit organization Young & Established worked with Mo’s House to collect toys, hygiene products, and non-perishable food items to take to hard-hit Mayfield, Kentucky, on Wednesday. Rare Bird Uncommon Gifts donated a portion of its sales on Sunday to the Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund. Parlor Doughnuts was organizing members of its Evansville and Nashville crews to mobilize to Mayfield and serve coffee and doughnuts
Walton’s Smokehouse and Southern Kitchen hosted a fundraiser Monday for Operation BBQ Relief in support of Mayfield. Pit Masters Tim Mills of Walton’s and Chris Mills of Flying Pigs Barbecue served pulled pork plates with baked beans and potato salad to residents and first responders. CenterPoint Energy Indiana Electric also released nearly 20 contact crews from local utility work last weekend who are now assisting with power restoration efforts in Kentucky. 44News will host a telethon on Dec. 16 through 6 p.m. to raise money for the American Red Cross’ Tri-State Cares fund. Viewers can call in to donate at 812-468-1009, donate online at redcross.org/tristatecares, or visit the telethon in person today at Old National Bank, 1 Main St.
Local relief efforts are ongoing and need volunteers, supplies, and funds. It Takes a Village No-Kill Rescue (1417 N. Stockwell Road) is arranging fosters for displaced pets, and is also taking donations of dog food, cat food, cat litter, leashes collars, blankets, and crates to send to Kentucky shelters. Pet Food Center is accepting donations at all of its Indiana locations to send to humane societies in western Kentucky. The Evansville Otters are collecting items at Bosse Field (23 N. Main St.) through 5 p.m. Friday. Items will be taken to the former National Guard Armory at 735 N. Elm St. in Henderson, Kentucky, to be dispersed in Mayfield.
Other Ways to Donate:
Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund
American Red Cross
Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999.
Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund
The University of Kentucky College of Medicine has established a GoFundMe page collecting donations at gofundme.com/f/ukcom-student-effort-for-tornado-relief-in-ky.
Kentucky Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters
Mayfield-Graves County Tornado Relief
Mayfield-Graves County United Way has set up a GoFundMe to collect donations at gofundme.com/f/mayfield-graves-county-tornado-relief.
Visit helpsalvationarmy.org and donate to the Salvation Army Western KY Disaster Relief Fundraiser on Facebook.
United Way of Kentucky
The agency has set up a donation site specifically for tornado victims. Visit uwky.org/tornado.
Cayce Baptist Church Tornado Relief Fund
Monetary donations may be mailed to 41 Holly Circle Fulton, KY 42041
Photos courtesy of the West Side Nut Club.