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‘Neighbors helping neighbors’: $2.3 million donated for Kentucky tornado relief

Dawson Springs on Dec. 11, 2021, the afternoon following the largest tornado system to ever hit the state.
Dawson Springs on Dec. 11, 2021, the afternoon following the largest tornado system to ever hit the state.

In the aftermath of one of the worst tornado events in Kentucky history, residents and people from around the country are rallying together to support relief efforts in the western part of the state.

Gov. Andy Beshear said during a news conference Sunday that there were over 18,000 donations made to the Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund within just 24 hours, totaling more than $2.3 million. 

The funds will go toward funeral expenses for families first, and the remainder will be used for rebuilding.

“The first thing that we have to do is grieve together,” Beshear said. “And then we can rebuild together.”

With thousands of people without homes and thousands more without power, Beshear said Kentuckians went to work immediately to support their distressed neighbors, offering their homes to strangers, donating loads of supplies to impacted areas and volunteering to help look for missing people.

“We are grateful for the outpouring of love. We feel it,” he said. “In fact, one of our biggest challenges right now is organizing the amount of people that want to help, want to donate and want to volunteer. That’s the best challenge any of us could ask for.”

In Mayfield, Catalyst Church quickly became a hub for volunteers, partnering with emergency management to collect donations and distribute food to community members. 

South Warren High School in Bowling Green was turned into a shelter and donation site overnight, where hundreds of volunteers joined the Kentucky Red Cross to distribute supplies to families in need. 

Businesses across the commonwealth also contributed to the effort. Six Forks Burger Company and Four Pegs Beer Smokehouse & Bar in Louisville asked community members to bring donations to their restaurants, where they gathered enough supplies to fill a 26-foot U-Haul truck.

“We need to do our part,” Six Forks owner Troy King said. 

In addition to the millions of dollars raised through the state’s relief fund, thousands more have poured in through other funding avenues created by community members. A GoFundMe page created by the Mayfield Community Foundation, for example, has raised over $70,000 so far. 

“In Kentucky, we are good people and we care about one another,” Beshear said. “That’s why people were out in this storm and helping their neighbors or people they don’t know.”

Beshear also thanked the hundreds of first responders, national guardsmen and other Kentucky employees who are working around the clock to help the impacted communities.

Less than 40 hours after the tornadoes struck, the federal government announced that federal disaster assistance has been made available to the commonwealth. FEMA and Department of Homeland Security personnel are now on the ground in Western Kentucky, providing food, water and shelter to displaced families, assessing the damage and starting to address long-term housing and recovery needs.

“We’ve heard incredible stories of neighbors helping neighbors. Neighbors rescuing people from rubble,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell during a press conference in Mayfield on Sunday. “You are also first responders. Thank you so much for all of the effort that you put in to make sure that your neighbors are safe.”

Here are some ways you can help the tornado relief effort in Kentucky.

Jasmine Demers is an investigative reporter for LPM covering youth and social services. She is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email Jasmine at jdemers@lpm.org.

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