Salvation Army canteens reaching areas under served following Hattiesburg tornado

Melissa and Mike Bagett

(Lamar County, MS) Looking around you wonder how anything is left standing. Very few trees are upright, and even fewer homes on a stretch of Sullivan-Kilrain Road in Lamar County, Mississippi just outside of Hattiesburg. Most of what was here is now scattered across several stretches of property. Residents were told this is where Saturday morning’s tornado touched down and began its path of destruction for fifteen more miles.

Melissa Bagett is looking for the hidden treasures of family pictures she might find through the piles of debris left behind. Melissa and her husband Mike were here when the tornado touch down just outside their home.

“I heard it come over the trees,” said Mike Bagett. “When they say get in the bath tub, get in the bath tub. It was over in five seconds but it left this.”

A portion of their roof was ripped off by the storm and vehicles were pushed several feet by the strong winds. Homes up and down this road experienced the same, but all walked away. Now they must rebuild or move like the Bagetts are doing. The Salvation Army was the first service organization to stop by and offer help in the form of meals and a friendly face.

“It means the world,” said Melissa Bagett. “We all are having to do a lot of work out here and don’t have time to eat. It’s appreciated.”

“It helps. It tells me the community understands you need sustenance after something like this,” said Mike Bagett.

Mike is right when he says community. These are local Salvation Army disaster volunteers from the Hattiesburg Corps dropping off several containers of food.

Hattiesburg Corps officers, Captains Patrick and Stacey Connelly have turned their attention to healing those devastated by the storms despite having lost the use of most of their facilities themselves.

“We are still in a state of shock, but we had to make sure we took care of the community that supports us,” said Captain Patrick Connelly.

Right now, the estimate to getting back in these buildings is six to nine months. For now, a portable office is already set up on the campus.

“We knew immediately we needed a game plan to run out social services, our Boys’ and Girls’ Club and to meet needs,” said Captain Stacey Connelly.

How People Can Help
The best way to help after a disaster is to make a financial donation to the charity of your choice. Monetary contributions also support local economies and ensure that businesses can operate when relief supplies diminish.

Officers their attention on healing community, not destruction

In the minutes and hours that followed the Saturday morning tornado that ripped through Hattiesburg, Mississippi and The Salvation Army Corps, the Corps Officers couldn’t help but wonder what will the future bring…what next?

But the feeling wasn’t for themselves or even their Corps’ buildings which suffered extensive damage, it was for the community and those they help through the programs offered here.

“We had to make sure we took care of the community that supports us, because the damage through this area is wide ranging. It was just right here,” said Captain Patrick Connelly, Hattiesburg Corps Officer.

“We knew immediately we needed a game plan to run our social services our Boys and Girls Club and to meet needs,” said Captain Stacey Connelly, Hattiesburg Corps Officer.

Captain Ronnette Smith says helping others is just what Salvation Army officers do.

“That’s just who we are, who God made us to be. The “SS” on our uniforms stand for “saved to serve”,” said Captain Smith.

Captain Smith lived on campus until December. She hadn’t finished her move completely. Her on campus apartment was flooded when the storm ripped off the roof and burst a water pipe.

“I can’t describe it, it’s a surreal feeling. You know what it’s suppose to look like but it doesn’t anymore,” said Captain Smith.

Work continues on the facilities the day after the storm and progress has been made to make sure the roofs to every building are covered and won’t let more water in. It will be several more months, however until they will be usable.

“They are telling us six to nine months until we can move back in. A portable office has already arrived, so that will be where we work for now,” said Captain Stacey Connelly.

The officers here continue to get support from their fellow Salvation Army officers across the country whether it be by phone, text or social media, but it was one visit that meant the most. Majors Roy and Jackie Johnson arrived at the Corps just hours after the tornado Saturday. Captain Patrick has known Major Roy Johnson since he was five years old. The Major’s hug brought tears.

“It was just a sense of relief, just to know we were not alone.”

How People Can Help
The best way to help after a disaster is to make a financial donation to the charity of your choice. Monetary contributions also support local economies and ensure that businesses can operate when relief supplies diminish.

Feeding increases as clean up continues in Hattiesburg area

The Salvation Army now has four mobile feeding units covering the areas affected by the early morning tornado that left a path of destruction in and around Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Along the path of Saturday’s storms, roads are still blocked as power crews work to restore electricity to homes.

Salvation Army canteens set up so residents wouldn’t have to walk or drive too far for a hot meal or something to drink.

“I heard glass breaking and something hitting the house,” said Hattiesburg resident, George Dixon.

Dixon walked over for something to eat. He also was prayed for before he left.

“Seeing this truck makes you feel like someone cares about you,” said Dixon.

Veronica Williams drove up to The Salvation Army canteen knowing she could get a hot meal for her family.

“You always show up when people are in need,” said Williams. “You see that red and white, you are about to get help.”

Help comes in many forms. Michelle Overby and Jordyn Lester lived through Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Now living in Hattiesburg, they saw people in need and wanted to help.

“We drove down this street and saw how the people looked, that was how we looked after Katrina, so we had to help,” said Overby.

Michelle and Jordyn made sandwiches, chips bags, snacks and bought water to hand out, but with the road blocked they couldn’t deliver the food to a local church. That’s when they saw The Salvation Army canteen.

“The Salvation Army helped us and we wanted to do that here,” said Lester.

Michelle and Jordyn asked if they could pass out their food next to the canteen, and our disaster workers even let them use one of our tables.

The Salvation Army prepared and delivered meals, served drinks and snacks, and prayed with folks from the community.

With two mobile feeding units on standby ready to help if needed, disaster personnel with assess the need in the area and work with local and state emergency management agencies to provide for those in need.

How People Can Help
The best way to help after a disaster is to make a financial donation to the charity of your choice. Monetary contributions also support local economies and ensure that businesses can operate when relief supplies diminish.

Corps Buildings Damaged in Hattiesburg as Division Prepares for More Storms


January 21, 2017
Jon Kalahar | jon.kalahar@uss.salvationarmy.org | (601) 941-7779

Hattiesburg, MS — A tornado cut a destructive path across part of Forrest County, Mississippi early Saturday morning. Nothing in its path was spared, including The Salvation Army, Hattiesburg Corps. Fifteen clients were staying in the emergency shelter when the storm struck.

“You look around this campus at what buildings received the most damage. It’s a mess, but the shelter was mostly spared,” said Captain Patrick Connelly, Hattiesburg Corps Officer.

The Hattiesburg Salvation Army’s campus includes the church, administrative offices, and the Boys and Girls Club including a gym. All had roof damage and water throughout.

“These are just buildings. These are just things. They are not all the Army is. We will continue to do what we do and that is help this community recover,” said Captain Connelly.

The Jackson, Mississippi Corps arrived just in time Saturday with two mobile feeding units to help prepare meals for the local shelter housing 50 residents from the area and ten staff members.

Emergency Disaster Services Director for the Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Division, Terry Lightheart has stationed three more mobile feeding units on standby. More severe weather is expected tonight.

“Once again the entire Division is on alert as we watch severe weather move across the Southeast, so we want to protect our workers and keep them out of harm’s way. We will know better Sunday exactly how many vehicles and personnel we need to move into action,” said Lightheart.

To help us provide for those in need from Saturday’s storms you can donate through this link: give.salvationarmyusa.org/January_tornado_outbreak 

The Salvation Army responding, standing by should weather become serious over the weekend

The Salvation Army is already providing aid to residents affected by a round of severe storms moving across the southern part of our Division and first responders on the scene helping those in need. Salvation Army Officers, Majors Bert and Cristy Lind, with the Laurel, Mississippi Corps have deployed a mobile feeding unit to serve drinks and snacks in Mize, Mississippi.

Thursday afternoon the National Weather Service says an EF-2 tornado touched down near Magee in Simpson County and Mize in Smith County, both Southeast of Jackson, Mississippi. The storm toppled trees and power lines, plus damaged several homes and causing flash flooding.

Other Salvation Army Corps are on standby from Jackson to New Orleans to Mobile with more storms being forecast for this weekend. Currently, the National Weather Service is predicting severe weather throughout the weekend with the potential for more high wind and tornadic activity.

“The entire Division is on alert,” said Terry Lightheart, Emergency Disaster Services Director for The Salvation Army’s Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Division. “Equipment and personnel are ready to deploy and provide disaster relief services as needed.”

The Salvation Army will coordinate its response with state and local emergency management officials in order to provide for areas with the most need.

The Salvation Army providing warmth, place to stay as winter weather hits the South

Warming stations, shelters open and extending hours across Alabama and Mississippi

JACKSON, MS -With Winter Storm Helena pushing freezing temperatures, ice and snow into the Deep South, The Salvation Army is responding with a warm place to stay, a hot meal, and  supplies for those in need across Alabama and Mississippi.

The Tuscaloosa Corps opened a warming station Thursday evening as temperatures dropped. The Tuscaloosa’s Center of Hope has 73 beds available with the ability to take in up to 130 residents should the need arise. The warming station is expected to be open through the weekend.

“The Salvation Army has a safe, warm place to stay for those trying to get out of the cold, said Major William Shafer, Tuscaloosa Corps Officer. “If the weather continues into next week, we will keep our doors open as long as there is a need.”

In locations as far south as Biloxi, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama, The Salvation Army has opened its doors and is providing meals. In those locations, once the temperature drops below 40 degrees warming stations are open and shelters extend their hours to help all who don’t have a place to stay.

“”We will open our cold weather shelter with meals until the temperature is better,” said Major Mark Brown, Coastal Alabama Command Officer.

Even in places like Baton Rouge, where last August’s flooding left The Salvation Army without a shelter, officers and personnel will be moving through city streets offering blankets, soup, and coffee.

“The weather this past year has presented many challenges to our neighbors and even to us at The Salvation Army, and today is another challenge with the cold.  After losing all of our command facilities, The Salvation Army is still here to provide help and hope to those in our community,” said Captain Brett Meredith, Baton Rouge Corps Officer. “We will have two vehicles roaming through the city serving from 3pm through late in the evening.”

The Columbus, Mississippi Corps will also deploy a warmth patrol in their area serving hot chocolate, coffee and handing out blankets.

As the storm moves across Alabama, corps in Huntsville, Montgomery and Anniston, Alabama are ready to welcome those who need to get out of the dangerously cold temperatures.

Local residents in need can expect all our locations to include extended hours for shelter as well as hot meals and beverages available to those who need to escape the cold.

To find a Salvation Army Corps in your area, please call 1-800-SAL-ARMY or log onto our website at salvationarmyalm.org and click on LOCATIONS.