When I first laid eyes on Holt -- a community just outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- just a few days after the April 27 tornado struck, what had once been a vibrant neighborhood now looked like a huge open field. It was a field filled with splintered wood, crumpled metal, broken glass, and shattered dreams.
Families sorted through the ruins looking for anything they could salvage.
An aerial view of Tuscaloosa showing just how wide-spread the tornado damage is. ©2011 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision
My co-worker and I talked with a man who had owned the Lucky Dollar store. We asked if he would rebuild. He said he didn’t know: “It used to be a neighborhood store and now there’s no neighborhood.”
Now most of the rubble is gone. There are still some homes standing, but many more have completely vanished. So in the face of that, it’s even more important than ever for the children of Holt to know that there are some things that remain the same.
Holt Day of Caring
At World Vision’s Holt Day of Caring a couple of weeks ago, record-breaking heat across the southeast didn’t keep the residents of Holt from coming out. The first family showed up at 7 a.m. even though the event didn’t start until 9:00.
Earlier this year, volunteers packed 300 hygiene kits, filled with items such as soap, a toothbrush, and toothpaste, for junior high and high school students attending the day’s event.
Kaleb Fairchild, 4, is excited about the new Mr. Potato Head toy he got at the Holt Day of Caring. He said he couldn't wait to play it. ©2011 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision
Donations from corporate partners included a gift to be used toward World Vision’s relief and recovery efforts in the areas in the Southeast impacted by the tornadoes—specifically to help stock World Vision’s teacher resource center with supplies for the Tuscaloosa schools to draw from during the upcoming school year.
Tuck's RUSH for Literacy—a foundation established by New York Giants’ football player, Justin Tuck and his wife Lauran—donated funds during his April visit to Tuscaloosa, which were used to purchase backpacks and school supplies for the children of Holt.
Hasbro, Inc. and First Book offered special gifts of toys, games, and books for the community’s school-aged children. Each child also got to pick out a pair of brand-new shoes. Over 100 volunteers—including teachers from the four schools being served, the Holt High School Cheerleaders and Ambassadors, local volunteers, and church volunteers from Nashville and Ohio—donated 433 hours to help make a success of the day.
Families lined up and moved through the various tents set up. They started at the Hasbro tent getting age-appropriate toys and games for their children. Then they had their choice of navy blue, Kelly green, or teal canvas shoes.
Many of the children lingered under the First Book tent searching for the right books for themselves. One little boy started reading his book and refused to heed his mother’s pleas to continue on to the backpacks. And then it was on to the last tent to get their backpacks. Each of the packs came filled with supplies and a handwritten note by the volunteer who packed it.
One card touched directly on the trauma faced by each of these families. ‘Friend I can only imagine what these last days have been like for you. Please know that you are all in our thoughts and in our prayers.’
Anyssa Williams, 5, got a new backpack at the Holt Day of Caring sponsored by World Vision and its corporate partners. ©2011 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision
Finally every person there received a hot lunch of a hot dog or hamburger, a bag of chips, and a drink provided by local restaurant T's Basket.
More than 800 children were served on the Holt Day of Caring. Before the beginning of school, 1500 children will receive backpacks with which they can start the year.
“The Blessing Business”
Parents echoed that the help with the school supplies is especially appreciated now as they struggle to try to rebuild their lives.
“It means everything. Every little bit helps. It saves money because we’re trying to get our house situated. So every little bit helps. We’re grateful, very grateful for the help,” one man said.
“Thank you, not just for me and my family, but for all the families whose home were destroyed, the families who were not able to buy for their children. It means so much and we want to thank all of them for what all they have done,” said Sandra Green, 44, “This is a great contribution to help this community—for the families, for the people who lost.”
She said that the dedication of World Vision, its corporate partners, and the volunteers all combined to help her realize that, “God is still in the blessing business.”
To families across the U.S. who are sending their children back to school this month, we're praying for an enriching and fun year for your children!