The EF-4 tornado hit the same town that some of our family members live in. We checked on our family and they were all okay, but then I began to realize other people had lost their family members. This hit close to home.
Some people had lost multiple family members and many were injured and in critical condition. Some were children. This was only 90 miles and less than two hours from my own home.
As I messaged with my own cousin and she began to express what it was like in Cookeville, I thought, “This is an opportunity for all of us to put our faith into action and love our neighbors.” As scripture came to mind, I asked myself, “How much do I love myself? If a huge tornado wiped out everything I had, would I love myself enough to seek food, shelter, comfort and prayers for myself, my family and my friends?”
Of course, I would! We all would. So if we are to take Mark 12:31 seriously, we would seek food, shelter, comfort and prayers for our Middle Tennessee neighbors who were suffering. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
As I began to explore ways to help, I discovered a Facebook group called "Cookeville Strong." There, I was able to read the stories, prayer requests, and urgent needs of the people living this nightmare. I read that the most immediate need the day after the tornado was for tarps and supplies people could use to gather what few belongings they had left. People were trying to pick up the pieces and some were trying to salvage what they could.
I called the Cookeville Community Center. They confirmed that tarps and clean-up supplies were most needed.
Immediately, I began to think of how we could work to gather and get those supplies to that community as quickly as possible. My husband Jason said there might be some disaster-relief buckets left over and available through Holston Conference, but we didn't know what was in them. We were hoping some might contain the most needed disaster-relief items.
We made a phone call to a mission committee member at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville who directed us to Jimmy Manis, the mission coordinator at the church. He confirmed there were relief buckets at the conference office in Alcoa, but we still weren't sure exactly what was in them. We made a plan to go and find out the next morning.
In the meantime, I began seeking out businesses that might be willing to donate the much-needed tarps. I spent the morning after the tornado going around town and explaining to managers what we needed. At 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, we had nothing. By 10 a.m., we had over 100 tarps, all donated by generous businesses in town. One manager didn't have the freedom to donate on the spot without going through a lot of red tape and paperwork, so she personally took out her own debit card and paid for a number of tarps herself.
We were overwhelmed by the generosity of our town in Maryville and the love of humanity we saw that morning. We took up donations at our bakery business, Cinnaholic in Knoxville. WBIR news came by to do a story about how we were collecting items to take to Cookeville, encouraging people to join in. People in the Knoxville community brought tarps and other donations to Cinnaholic to add to our efforts.
On Wednesday morning, we met at the Holston Conference office in Alcoa. As we opened buckets we discovered that all of the stored buckets contained the exact items that were most needed in Cookeville! Praise the Lord!
Even more encouraging was that there was no hesitation or question as to whether we could take and transport these to the people who needed them most. Holston staff let us have the supplies on the spot, without hesitation. We prayed over these buckets before we loaded them into the truck. We were even allowed to use a trailer that was on location, so we could take even more supplies.
We had been in contact with Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville because someone said they might have more "cleaning buckets" for us. It turns out they did. The leaders at Cokesbury told us to come over and fill the rest of the trailer and truck as full as we could get it. They even came to help us load. I couldn't help thinking about the hundreds of hands that came together as people from all over the conference put these buckets together. Praise God for the connection. Praise God for the generous people and praise God for preparation and those who had a vision to prepare ahead so these buckets were ready for such a time as this!
We drove the loaded trailer home for the night on Wednesday, where our neighbors and friends continued to come by and add to the donations. I was in direct contact with the staff at Cookeville Community Center, so they were expecting us when we drove up with the supplies the next day. We decided to take dozens of cinnamon rolls with us, to bless the volunteers who had been working tirelessly to serve their neighbors. We were so blessed by what we were reading about and seeing on social media -- about the thousands of people who were coming together to help.
The tornados hit on Tuesday, March 3, and we were already headed toward Cookeville on the morning of Thursday, March 5, with 155 relief buckets, over 100 cinnamon rolls, and over 100 tarps in a trailer provided by Holston camping. We arrived at the community center were we witnessed tornado survivors with containers who were "shopping" and getting supplies for their families. There were hundreds of volunteers there sorting and unloading donations. The community center staff expressed such gratitude. "We can really use this stuff!” they said.
We wanted to donate blood while we were there on Thursday but the line to give blood was 3-6 hours long. So we came back to East Tennessee and began to think of other ways to help. I wondered if we hosted a blood drive here in East Tennessee, if that would help relieve the depletion of the blood supply in Cookeville?
Medic in Knoxville said we could indeed do that, so we have a blood drive scheduled at Cinnaholic Bakery on March 25 from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. We are encouraging people to come by, offering a cinnamon-roll coupon to each donating person.
We continue to read stories, pray for people, and look for ways to help. As believers, we all have something to share. We have faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13) When we share these things, we are blessing others but ultimately, by showing the love of Jesus, we are sharing the greatest gift.
Holly Roe is a long-time children’s ministry director. Her husband is the Rev. Jason Roe, United Methodist evangelist and leader of the Resurrection Design Team.
Some Holston members responded quickly after March 2-3 tornadoes destroyed parts of middle Tennessee. Others are responding now to a call for relief supplies, which Holston Conference mission leaders will collect and distribute. Twenty-four people ...