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Columbus Tornado Relief All About Community

Columbus, MS (February 28, 2019)— Immediately after an EF-3 tornado struck the small town of Columbus—known as “The Friendly City”—  on Saturday, February 23, 2019, The Salvation Army has been serving and partnering with community groups and businesses to bring as much help as possible to those in need. The Community Benefit Committee, a local volunteer group made up of community leaders in Columbus, approached The Salvation Army early on about working together and a fruitful relationship was born. “The Salvation Army’s values are so close to ours, so who better to work with,” said Rhonda Sanders, Columbus police officer and one of the chief coordinators of The Community Benefit Committee.

Columbus Salvation Army Corps Officer, Lt. Christian Smith, says the partnership has been a blessed experience all around. “We recognize the needs for the community will be ongoing and are grateful for all partnerships and the donations which have been provided thus far. It is heartwarming to see how everyone has come together to serve those who have been affected. It’s pretty much like providing a big group hug,” said Lt. Smith.

To date, The Salvation Army has distributed the following tornado relief items to the Columbus community: 2,480 meals, 2,020 drinks, 820 snacks, 400 comfort/hygiene kits, 160 tarps, 100 blankets, and 200 pillows. To donate to The Salvation Army’s relief efforts, go to helpsalvationarmy.org .

New officer, community volunteer working to make the most of Monroe Corps

The path to Monroe, Louisiana for New Yorker and Salvation Army officer, Sergeant Jerome Casey was a long and winding road to say the least. Addiction put him in jail with rehabilitation through The Salvation Army his last hope. It worked. The three years prior to his arrival in Monroe he ran the shelter in Gulfport, Mississippi and led several men down the same path to recovery he chose.

Casey has the same frame of mind when facing the challenge of restoring The Salvation Army on Hart Street. He’s honest and meets it head on.

“We were kind of a mess, to be honest with you. We’ve cleaned it up dramatically,” said Casey.

Casey arrived just after The Salvation Army was forced to close its shelter’s doors late last summer due to lack of funding. With only one remaining employee, Casey needed to make friends fast, but the closing of Monroe’s only overnight shelter didn’t make things easy for the first-time officer. That’s when Casey met Larry Joe Head.

“Larry welcomed me with open arms. He’s someone who came to volunteer, and he’s turned into quite a good friend, him and his wife,” said Casey.

The lifelong Monroe native, Head became the Sergeant’s connection to the community. Both men have turned the shelter project into a labor of love for this community. Each very complimentary of the other’s willingness to get things done.

“The Sarg is like no other, I guess you can say,” said Head. “It’s really interesting, when he starts talking, people just gravitate towards him.”

“Larry’s always doing something,” said Casey. “I’ll walk into a room where there was nothing and there’s lights and paint, and I don’t know how he does it. He keeps moving forward. He’s wonderful.”

With Larry Joe’s connections, 140 volunteers have worked nearly one thousand hours to get The Salvation Army’s shelter back open. Unfortunately, this is no overnight project. The Salvation Army first opened in Monroe in 1927. Its current location and building was established in 1961.

“There’s a lot of things been done over the years. Most of it has been adding on top of what was already there,” said Head.  “So, some of the things we did, we went all the way down to the original and took it out and replaced it with new stuff. But there’s been a good bit of fix up.”

Still, Casey remains positive.

He plans to create a whole new way of caring for the homeless including opening what he calls the courtyard of hope at 2pm. That means no lining up outside the building or sitting on the street curb waiting. He wants to bring in mobile medical facilities and extend the shelter hours in the morning till 10am, allowing Casey to have one on one time with each person to find out their needs. Casey says all of this with one thing in mind.

“It’s about instilling an ounce of hope. A little bit of hope goes along way.”

With remodeling nearing completion, the next challenge is securing enough funding to hire new employees for cooking, laundry, and overnight monitoring.

“The generosity of Monroe has been tremendous since I walked in this building, and I know they will support us as we help those who need it the most,” said Casey.

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.