Today is weird.
I never thought that I would be sad posting the accomplishment of my first major task on the list.
Here it is:
19. Complete 30 random acts of kindness to 30 total strangers.
For those of you that have been following my twitter and facebook, you know that I had the blessed opportunity to go down to Alabama this past weekend to help with disaster relief in Birmingham and Huntsville. So here is the story of the last few days:
Thursday, April 28th.
I fly home from a trip to San Antonio for work. I have been away from the wife and boys since Tuesday morning, when I left for the Lonestar State. On the way home, Summer and I talk about the recent storms that have been occurring while I was out of state, and all the rain that Tennessee was getting. The conversation then turned to Alabama and the tornadoes that had blown through the previous day.
The decision to go was oddly easy. Summer and I have been working on some plans to do some overseas work, which up until this point had been looking for some organizations and being procrastinators about getting our passports. Anyways, we made the call and committed to go. I made the call not knowing where I would go, what I would do, and if anyone would come with me, or even if I would have anything to take.
Thursday concluded with rapid internet searches for churches, community groups, the Red Cross, anyone that might be doing something worthwhile that weekend. I also sent out word with two churches that Summer and I are involved with requesting any kind of support or personnel that anyone was willing to give. I made a contact with a college friend in Birmingham for a place to stay (without electricity, but at least a soft bed at night).
When I went to bed on Thursday, the plan was still not clear … and yet I felt oddly ok with it.
Friday, April 29th.
I had to go to work. Boooo. A training day, so not that bad, but my mind was elsewhere. I would be lying if I told you at each break and over lunch I wasn’t sending texts, replying to facebook messages and responding to e-mails about the weekend. I received word from a high school / college good friend about what her church was doing for several of their parishioners and surrounding community in Birmingham / Pleasant Grove / Fultondale area.
That was it, Saturday was set.
The thing is, I was so desperate for something, she was the first to let me know of a church that had a plan on something to do. I was sold. A testament to Gardendale Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church, that is for sure.
Friday evening, I packed my bags, gathered my tools, spent donated money, and got on the road at 9pm.
For those of you interested in what your donations (materials and cash) added up to, here is what was packed in my truck for donation and service in Alabama:
- 35 pounds of food that was ready-to-eat
- 9 gallons of distilled water
- 264 bottles of clean water
- 20 gallons of gas in cans for distribution
- 16 rolls of toilet paper
- 1 Package of paper plates, cups, and silverware
- 2 bottles of sanitizer
- 2 first aid kits
So, in the truck, I headed from north to south TN, to gather some more tools from my brother in law, and to crash for the night before heading down to Alabama the next day.
Saturday, April 30th.
430 am came early. I rose before the sun, and it greeted me on my way down I-65. I had to make Birmingham (and Gardendale) by 800 am to make the team formation and deployment. I made it on time … and let me tell you, the combination of abstaining of carbonated beverages, and actually being on the road before a Starbucks was open made for an, at times, sleepy drive. Getting into Alabama and beginning to listen to local radio stations was enough to keep me awake and driving….
“Where can I find water? We are thirsty, and my baby needs formula.”
“Someone needs to visit the retirement high-rise. They don’t have power and can’t get up and down the steps.”
“My dog is missing”
“I am running out of insulin. Who can help?”
It was endless. All morning long from when I crossed the line to getting into Birmingham at 8.
Once I arrived at Gardendale, I gained assistance at dispersing half of my donation supplies to the church, as it was a Salvation Army collection site. Not only was I able to unload some of my first supplies, but I was greeted by some of the kindest, most open, and most caring people I have met in a long while. I was just a strange guy from out of town, but in moments, felt a bit like a part of the family. The teams were split into several groups with tasks ranging from helping clear brush, doing door to door checks in the Fultondale community (because the Fire Station had been decimated), and traveling into one of the hardest hit areas in the Birmingham area, Pleasant Grove, AL.
Pleasant Grove, at this point in time, was still under the control of the National Guard. Search and Rescue was still not complete in the area. Aerial surveys by Nat.G. helicopters on what seemed like an hourly basis. An e-mail from the mayor was our ticket in. Our mission: Assist Bro. Bill, Pastor of Visitation, in any reclamation efforts at his home in the Pleasant Grove community, and assist in his relocation to an alternative home. Provide any other assistance as needed.
Three checkpoints later, this is what we were greeted with:
Utter, complete, incalculable, horrific …. total …. devastation.
We were not diverted from our tasks, and went to work helping those that needed. The stories of Birmingham and Pleasant Grove were caught in smaller things:
-The aid station a block down, which I have coined several times as “give a penny / take a penny” on a grand scale. Several tarps laid out on the remnants of a front yard, where people would bring items (water, food, clothing … anything), and people would come and get what they needed and leave what they could. There was no looting, no hoarding, and greed was a foreign idea.
-The fact that we were brought food by total strangers at 200 pm with coolers of cold drinks, hamburgers, and hotdogs strapped to the back of their four wheelers.
-The saving of a Bible that was easily over 100 years old and an heirloom of the family.
-The sweet humor and irony of when trying to rescue a working refrigerator realizing that it was easier to “make the door bigger” rather than taking the refrigerator apart.
-The sweet witness of the full body of Christ, regardless of denomination, method of baptism, pre- or post- tribbers, working to help heal a broken people and a broken land.
The day was long, and the work hard, but I had a curfew to meet. Huntsville, being without power, was under a dusk until dawn curfew, and I had to make it back by about 745 pm. Luckily, I made it to my friend’s dark house, and had my first cold shower in a long time. It felt good.
Sunday, May 1st.
Up early (not as early as the night before, mind you), and traveled with my buddy to make contact with two other folks before heading into the local Huntsville-hit zone. The important thing to remember about Huntsville after this storm is that the tornado knocked out the “main” lines coming from TVA. You know the ones that occasionally you drive under on the interstate, or hope that don’t get built next to your house (Erin Brokevich (sp?) style). Anyways, because at least one of those towers were down and had to be rebuilt, almost the entirety of Huntsville was without power, by the time I was there, for four days, and expected to be out for another few.
We loaded up, traveled to the Monrovia Community Center to register and get our volunteer wristbands, and deposited the remainder of my donated supplies.
My buddy’s brother-in-law had a co-worker who’s house was hit, and that is where we were heading. Here was the scene:
We spent the day doing several things, mainly clearing brush and trash, helping to secure his home (boarding windows) and supporting his front porch to keep it from falling.
The beauty of this site was that while we were working, and while my buddy and I went to go get food, when we got back, there were about 10 more people there. And they brought chainsaws … and a tractor. These volunteers, unsolicited, came to help get down some of the precarious trees close to the house. Beautiful chainsaw work was done. And a huge amount of work was accomplished. There was, however, a task that would take all of us.
No, I’m not kidding. There were 6 sheep in an adjacent field that survived the storm, but needed to be moved. Let me tell you, there is nothing more entertaining than watching about 15 grown men attempting to herd, grab, and carry sheep from a pen to a trailer. I would have pictures, but I was in the thick of it, too.
After the animals were safe, we took inventory of the day, and what still needed to be done, and began to pack up, realizing that if we were going to eat at one of the guy’s home, we had to cook, eat, and get back before the curfew went back into effect. (29 arrests the night before. They were serious about this curfew.)
Cold shower #2.
We were successful, ate, enjoyed some rest, and then dispersed to our local homes.
I slept hard.
Monday, May 2nd.
I had debated to remain and work for a half day on Monday, however, my 30 year old body would not agree. My friend went on to a volunteer day that his company was hosting. I packed up and headed back to TN.
I know that this was a long post, and I hope it didn’t ramble too much.
I wanted simply to share with the people that supported me with funds and or donated supplies an accounting of those, and to share what was accomplished in such a brief amount of time.
I began this post being sad about completing #19. Here at the end, I am not. I am more inspired to complete any emergency response training that I can, become more involved with the Red Cross and Samaratin’s Purse to be more able to assist in any future disasters.
I encourage anyone reading this to do the same. Money helps, things help, but what I saw more than anything else were hands and feet. Consider what you can do … look for where you can give a sliver of time, money or energy, because like the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, it really is a miracle what can be accomplished when the church is obedient in giving.