Yesterday I went with two others from church to Tuscaloosa to drop off supplies and to volunteer. It was quite the experience. First, there were the donations. The first picture shows how much was donated by friends.
My garage full of supplies
We had all we could to get it there, as this second picture shows. A few more packages of toilet paper and one of us would have been riding on the bumper.
The car, packed to the roof
Once we got into Tuscaloosa we went to meet up with Brian, a student at Alabama who is part of the Ttownaxemen. They’ve been going door to door helping people clear rubble and fix small problems. As we drove in we saw some damage, but this was our first look at the really bad parts. I took this picture on the way out, but it’s the same spot. This place used to have tall trees and lots and lots of homes. Now look at it.
Our first look at the worst of the damage
When we met up with Brian, they had just finished their last house. We arrived just as the citywide cleanup efforts were ending. Everything that normal people could clean up had been done. Now the Army Corps of Engineers has to come in and clear away the rubble. They are the only ones with the equipment and know-how to do it. Brian showed us the areas the Corp was coming to clear. It was hard to believe.
This is where we met Brian
This used to be a Chuck E. Cheese. Seriously.
These houses were pulverized. There's just rubble left.
Brian took us to the 15th Street Emergency Services building. That’s where normal people drop off supplies for victims, and where normal people who are victims come to get supplies. Here’s a picture of that place:
15th Street Emergency Services
There was stuff stacked everywhere and people just coming and going. Brian and I started sorting men’s shirts. After fifteen minutes, we were the experts. The other volunteers had left, and people were coming to us with questions. It was incredible how volunteers came and went, and how quickly people were helped. They just pulled up, filled out a half sheet of paper, and got whatever they needed. After the shirts I helped a guy load the trailer behind his pickup with thirty cases of water and boxes of canned food. There were three other pickups with trailers there at the time. We filled another trailer a quarter full of diapers and wipes. As soon as one left, another pulled up. The loading area was barely organized, but it also wasn’t rocket science. Everyone worked together and got the job done. And lots of people were helped. Lots.
After three hours there, we were asked to go to another location: the old Food Mart. We had been there three hours. They barely knew us, but we said “sure.” Everyone knew where the old Food Mart was but us, so their directions were incomprehensible to an outsider. But we turned on the GPS and tried to get there because “they were a mess.” The GPS sent us the wrong way, but eventually we got there. That location was the place where tractor trailers dropped off pallets. Outside was a tractor trailer sent by NFL players Frank Walker and LaRon McClain. The trucks brought pallets. We sorted the pallets because the contents were were all mixed up. On one pallet would be clothes, diapers, food, batteries, all kinds of stuff. Once sorted, these items were packed into new pallets, each one full of all the same thing. For instance, we put together a pallet of toilet paper and another of bottled water. These packets were shrink wrapped and put on trucks to be sent to distrubution centers, such as churches. We arrived at three o’clock. The woman in charge had been there since two, even though the place had been running all day. That’s how it worked. By the time I left at six, other volunteers were joking with me that I had become “middle management.” And the lights been fixed. Which was nice. As was the tray of free Zaxby’s chicken fingers that had been laid out. We left for the long drive back tired, stunned by what we had seen, and overwhelmed by the emotions of the experience. One man in particular I will always remember, but you will have to wait until I post Sunday’s message to hear about him.
Lots of people want to know what to do now. There is no need for repair or cleanup at this point. Once the insurance adjusters and Corps of Engineers are done there will be a lot of repair work. I’m not sure when that will start. There is a lot of need for volunteers to help sort emergency supplies. The volunteers are being overwhelmed by what is coming in. There is a need, as thousands have been displaced, and they won’t be getting permanent housing anytime soon, but it seems like the biggest need now seems to be in outlying areas. But stuff comes and goes so fast that I’m sure the needs change daily. It’s just that right now, the volunteers seemed overwhelmed. It’s an amazing operation, one of barely organized chaos. Yet it is a blessing to so many, and I am glad to have done my small part for now. I say “for now” because I know I will be back. Let me know if you want to come along.