When the weather alert on my phone went off a little before 1am, I jumped out of bed. I expected this, so I grabbed the flashlight I left by my bed. First, I tried the television but we had no cable. Next, I tried my phone but didn’t find live information that was helpful. So, I decided to listen. It wasn’t long before, off in the distance, I heard a strange part-whistle-part-rumble sound. As I strained to determine if it sounded like a “train”, it faded off and I didn’t hear it again. I stayed diligently awake for a little over an hour before I felt safe to go back to sleep. To my surprise, I drifted off quickly and woke to my alarm at 5am.

Having lost sleep, I was tired and slow to get out of bed. Once I was up, I saw a message on my phone asking if everything was OK. The power was on. Outside, I saw no damage at all. Then another message came in. Clearly, the rest of Bowling Green was not waking to the same morning I was seeing. I decided to grab coffee on the way to my Saturday job at the local Community Farmers Market. We were lucky there, too. All we lost was power. Farmers don’t take much of anything lying down!  So, in spite of no power, we were open for the day. It was a comfort to be with the community as we sorted out all that had happened the night before.

Once the market was done, I shifted into my Glean Kentucky role. The market day was understandably slow and there was a bounty of donated food at the end of market. This crucial food needed to go where it could best be used for the impacted communities. This meant I would need to drive through some of the impacted areas. I turned on my GPS to help me navigate the certain detours I would encounter. The roundabout was partially open but very slow. I had ample opportunity to view the damage that surrounded the circle. It was shocking to see a “sliver” from a tree run straight through a car. I was saddened to see every house that surrounded the circle was severely damaged. This was the first time that I would fight back tears. It was not the last.

After driving over a sidewalk to get around a downed tree, I was on my way to the first food panty at WKU. They took what they could and sent me on my way with suggestions for other deliveries. During all of this slow driving, friends and family were checking on me. I shared what I was doing, and they wanted to help, too. Money started to show up in my Venmo account for relief supplies. So, once I was done dropping off food, I headed to get those supplies. By 7:00 that night I had delivered:

  • 87 pounds of fresh produce
  • 9 loaves of bread
  • 22 cupcakes
  • Countless diapers, formula, bottles, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, soap, and tarps

When I arrived at the Salvation Army, I saw trucks packing up to go out and feed people. I walked out of the middle school and saw a big box truck with “Feeding America” on the side. Just a few weeks ago, I visited them in Elizabethtown. I saw the warehouse that holds the food they packed to come down here and help. It wasn’t long before I began to hear that food banks were getting full. Volunteers, willing to clean up, were everywhere. Social media sites had three posts offering help to every post asking for help. My heart was touched by all the support coming from the Bowling Green community. Watching the helpers did make a difference.  As I met new friends and gathered information, I learned about often overlooked items. Here are just a few:

  • Milk-free baby formula for food allergies
  • Easy to open, ready to eat foods
  • Cups, plates, and plastic ware
  • Small laundry/baskets for sheltered people to carry supplies
  • Tarps and gorilla style tape (when roofs are damaged)
  • Towels, blankets, and pillows
  • Cards and family friendly games

The supply needs are vast, but the most important donation will always be your time. These supplies need people to organize and distribute them. Damaged homes need skilled labor to secure them for the coming days. Children will need care when the parents are able to return to work. And, so many will need a shoulder and kind word. A cup of coffee and a listening ear can mean the world to someone.

The thing I heard the most was, the real need begins when the early help is gone. People will get busy with their families and the holidays. Others will be returning to work. But, the rebuilding and healing can last months and even years. It’s the long haul that will need our time and attention. Community is where this healing lives and community is simply you and I working together to make a difference.