Shortly after the tornadoes hit the Southeast in the final days of April, the call came out for The Salvation Army of Greater Augusta to mobilize our canteen -- a mobile kitchen -- and to be prepared for deployment to one of the numerous disaster zones.
After 10 days, half a dozen communities and thousands of meals served, the three-person Salvation Army of Greater Augusta team returned to Augusta from tornado-ravaged northeast Alabama. What we saw during those 10 days in Alabama was both daunting and inspirational.
Joining me on this trip to provide nourishment and support to those whose lives had been irreparably altered by the tornadoes were Debra McKenzie, our development manager, and John Gillam, a member of The Salvation Army of Greater Augusta Corps, which is our church.
After a six-hour drive in our canteen, we arrived in the small town of Section, Ala. Among the devastation in Section, two events continue to reverberate in my mind.
FIRST, WE CAME upon a neighborhood that had lost 39 people to the tornadoes. Even those who had not perished in the natural disaster still had lost so much. Many had lost their homes and all their worldly possessions.
Second, despite all the destruction, members of Section Church of God joyously banded together to cook food -- receiving power via a generator -- that we would then deliver door to door with our canteen to those in need. This collaborative effort resulted in hundreds being fed that would otherwise have had few other alternatives for food.
After serving in Section and a number of surrounding communities, we were sent to Flat Rock, Ala., and were joined by Georgia Salvation Army canteens from Savannah and Vidalia. At this point, power had been out for six days and people were desperate for hot meals.
Working with other Salvation Army units, we were able to serve 1,000 or more people at every meal. Every time we thought we would run out of food, an individual, group or business would provide us with more food to prepare. As we saw in Section, the people of Flat Rock could not have been more thankful for the services we were providing.
IT STILL AMAZES me how all these people who had just lost so much -- friends, homes, possessions -- could express so much gratitude to us for simply providing a meal. During the long, sometimes 16-hour days, it was the amazingly kind words of those we were helping that kept us going strong.
On day seven of our time in northeast Alabama, we were shuttling supplies from Flat Rock to surrounding areas when the most humbling gesture occurred. Our group was praying with two families, giving thanks for their survival despite all the destruction.
Feeling so blessed by their survival and our service, one of the mothers in the group insisted on donating $400 to The Salvation Army. This act of selflessness in the midst of so much turmoil -- the mother had just lost her entire home -- is something I will never forget.
BY DAY NINE, power had been restored to a large majority of the Flat Rock area. This resulted in far fewer individuals needing meals served to them. With some sense of normalcy returning to the area, we began to say our tearful goodbyes to all the townspeople and fellow volunteers we had bonded with, and we began to prepare the canteen for the long trip back to Augusta the next day.
While I may never see them again, those whom I met during my 10 days in Alabama are my friends for life.
Finally, on behalf of The Salvation Army of Greater Augusta, I want to give a huge "thank you" to all of those who made donations to support our disaster relief services in Alabama. We could not have served those thousands of meals without you.
TO CONTINUE to help the tornado survivors in Alabama -- and also the Mississippi River flood victims -- please visit www.salvationarmyaugusta.org and click the "Give Now" banner at the top or call (800) SAL-ARMY.
In The Salvation Army we have a saying: "We combat natural disasters with acts of God." I am so thankful I had the opportunity to serve so many as they began the process of recovery.
(The writer is The Salvation Army of Greater Augusta's volunteer and disaster services coordinator.)