Paying it forward

My weekend’s travels took me to northern Mississippi to the city of Louisville.

Roughly 7,000 people call the Winston County seat home. That’s 10 fewer than resided there April 28, 2014 before a tornado touched down, leaving a 36-mile wake in its path.

The Mississippi run Sunday evening was to reunite with an Amish friend, Esther Wingerd, who, along with about 36 other believers from her community, made the trip to Louisville to help rebuild homes leveled by the horrific April storm. The crew, males and females ranging in age from early teens to late 50s, were eager to get to work.

The large group of volunteers is stationed for the week at the Mennonite Disaster Service Center on the outskirts of town. This week, they’re devoting several hours each day –from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – swinging hammers and paint brushes to help people they know little about get back into their homes.

Driving into Louisville, it was hard to miss the familiar sight of modular FEMA trailers. Anyone living in south Louisiana in August 2005 still has memories of the tight living quarters that served as temporary living quarters.

As Esther and her group were briefed on the work ahead and the lives they’ll be helping, the group leader offered a true observation. The April 28 storm produced about 79 tornadoes reaching from Nebraska to North Carolina. At least nine struck Mississippi that day. But the Louisville disaster has received little attention and little federal aid.

Six months after the deadly day, the hospital continues to operate out of tents. Plans to build a new plywood mill are in the works, but are probably at least another year away. And the 60-plus chicken coops and chicken factory lost to the wind have created a huge dent in the local economy.

Volunteers like the Amish group from Ohio give their time freely. But materials to rebuild the community are costly. And with government funding in short supply, donations are sorely needed. Money raised is used to buy building materials to rebuild leveled homes. To donate, visit online or mail a contribution to 583 Airport Road, Lititz, PA, 17543.

Louisiana was fortunate this year; we had a storm-free year. This is your chance to express your thankfulness this holiday and pay the favor forward. Consider helping this Thanksgiving.