Kits of Compassion: Partnering in Disaster Response

When tornados and severe storms struck Alabama in late April, Celesta Bridgeforth of Athens, Alabama, flashed back to how upsetting and disorienting it had been to lose her home to a tornado in 2011.

"'Brain scramble' is what you feel," she said.  "One minute I was standing in my kitchen and the next moment the house was in sticks.  I wondered, 'What do I do now?'  I know what it's like to reach for something you always had at hand - a toothbrush, a sponge - and it's not there."

"We received a CWS Emergency Cleanup Bucket at that time.  It wasn't a million bucks but it was nice, convenient and timely and sure did help when I'd lost almost everything and didn't know what was going on. "

"So when the tornados hit this April, the first thing that popped into my mind was the cleanup buckets," she said.  "I contacted our pastor about getting some for people in our area who'd been affected."

The Rev. Gary Myers and Trinity Congregational United Church of Christ in Athens requested 20 CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets.  Recipients included five siblings of church member Beverly Kirby, four of whose homes were completely demolished and the fifth made unlivable but reparable.

In all, the tornados and severe storms April 28-29, 2014 killed five people in Alabama and destroyed 96 homes.  They caused major damage to 130 homes and minor damage to 205 more, according to an early assessment.  Two dozen tornados touched down throughout central and northern Alabama.  It was the fourth largest tornado outbreak in state history.

Many homes had their roofs torn off.   Then it started to pour rain, soaking the interiors of many otherwise salvageable homes.

Thanks to shipments of CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets - 250 to Christian Service Mission in Birmingham and 500 to the Jefferson County Multi-Agency Disaster Warehouse in Bessemer - tornado survivors are able to clean their houses up.   CWS also sent 1,520 CWS Hygiene Kits for Alabama tornado survivors. 

The CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets and CWS Hygiene Kits are benefiting tornado survivors in multiple locations across Jefferson and Limestone counties - including Athens, in Limestone County.   

"This is rainy season.  Subsequent to the tornados, the area has suffered bad weather," said Heather Turney of Birmingham, Alabama, acting head of Lutheran Ministries of Alabama and president of the Jefferson County VOAD, or Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

"There are a lot of people without tarps, or whose tarps weren't put on correctly.  After the rain, they had to clean up all that water and fight mildew and black mold," she said.  "The CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets and CWS Hygiene Kits are needed for ongoing relief and for long-term recovery."

Veronica Edwards-Johnson is the disaster coordinator for the Adventist Community Services Central Alabama Federation. She manages the Jefferson County warehouse.  Edwards-Johnson noted that tornado survivors "are very grateful" for the CWS supplies.  She said, "As people looked through the buckets, many remarked, 'Oh yeah, I need this!'"

Urgent appeal for more CWS School Kits

Church World Service Kits are a great way your congregation can make a difference in a hands-on way. Our partnership with CWS makes a significant difference in the lives of people all over the world. With the latest shipment of CWS School Kits to our partner IOCC in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, CWS is now down to about 60 cartons of School Kits at the New Windsor Warehouse and 120 cartons at the warehouse in Ferncliff.

We need to replenish these supplies immediately.

CWS School Kits give children in impoverished schools, refugee camps, or other difficult settings some of the basic tools for learning, so it is vitally important that we replenish our supplies as quickly as possible.

++ In the case of Syria, IOCC supports one of the largest established networks to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid inside Syria, where more than 9.3 million people are currently in need of assistance.

++ In November 2013, some 3,000 CWS School Kits were shipped for distribution in Syria.

++ CWS School Kits include some of the basic necessities for learning, including notebooks, pencils and crayons.

++ These kits help children return to normalcy faster, helping them avoid the long-term effects of trauma.

For more information on assembling CWS School Kits, see:

This Week's Responses:

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Sri Lanka, Flood Relief
Michigan, Russia with Love Project
Oklahoma, Storm Damage (2)
Nigeria, Displacement 

Development and Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Women's Empowerment
Zimbabwe, Water Access