Lauren Jackson, Staff Writer
There were warnings all day that severe weather was possible across Alabama on March 19. Schools released students early, and many businesses closed in preparation for the storm to come. The possibility of tornadoes was projected as early as a week in advance, and, throughout the course of the evening, eleven tornadoes broke out across Alabama.
In Jacksonville, at least one tornado was confirmed with winds reaching 140 mph. According to an update provided to the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, 559 buildings were damaged. Of those damaged, 42 were destroyed, 146 took major damage and 371 took minor damage.
On the night of March 19, when the EF-3 tornado ripped through Jacksonville, Hannah Green was in Rome, Georgia visiting family. Green recently graduated from Jacksonville State University with her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and anxiously followed the path of the storm.
“I was panicking. The storm was supposed to come to Rome too, but I was really worried about my friends. I kept messaging them all and trying to make sure they were all okay,” said Green.
By the following morning, Green knew that she wanted to do something to help. She knew that she wanted to make something and to donate but was uncertain of what to make. Green would later design a graphic in support of the community that she would turn into a t-shirt fundraiser. The fundraiser has raised $6,506.
“The idea started with a graphic. I wanted to make something with art. That is what I majored in, and that is how I express myself,” Green said.
Her original goal was to sell 50 shirts, a goal which was met in the first hour of posting them online. The momentum continued to grow as the shirts spread on social media, and Green has sold 651 shirts so far.
“I just wanted to make something that I would want to wear, and that would support the community. Honestly, it has been just so overwhelming that so many people have chosen to support my shirt. There were so many other shirts they could have chosen. My original goal was to raise $400 then it got to $1,000 and then $2,000 and it just kept growing! I am excited to see what it can do for people,” said Green.
Green decided to donate the money to the disaster relief funds at the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama. All of the money donated to the Community Foundation Disaster Relief funds go directly towards the recovery process in the affected communities.
Green said, “At first I thought about donating the funds to the university, but after seeing the homes it was those people that I wanted to help.”
There are four county funds set up by the Community Foundation on their website, and one general fund. The funds have been in place since 2011 to ensure quick action after a disaster. After the March 19 tornadoes, the Community Foundation set up sub-funds to go directly to the communities hit by the storm.
Susan Williamson is the Vice President of Advancement and Communications at the Community Foundation. According to Williamson, the disaster funds have been in place since the 2011 tornadoes in preparation for any future disasters. The fund has had numerous donations since the devastation of the storm went viral.
“We have had donations from coast to coast,” said Williamson, “from Washington State to South Florida to Carolina. I like to call it generosity rising.”
Heather Lamey is the Director of Donor Grants and Standards for Excellence at the Community Foundation. According to Lamey, the Community Foundation helps with the long-term recovery of the communities.
“We step in during the long-term recovery, during the rebuilding process. As the months go by it is not so fresh on their minds and we are able to step in when resources run out,” says Lamey.
In a post on social media, Green shared her experience of donating the funds at the Community Foundation. There she and the ladies at the Community Foundation hugged and shared how the money would help the communities.
“The money we have raised can be used to fix roofs or to buy people new washer and dryers, and it has just made my day to know how we have helped so many people,” said Green in reference to those that purchased the shirts.
The Community Foundation assists the local area after other assistance has run out, working with contractors where insurance has not paid.
“After the 2011 tornadoes, we helped a lady that needed a ramp built at her home. We also had a school in DeKalb County that had been completely destroyed and we granted money for computers and new signs to the school. We pay contractors after the insurance claims have been exhausted – to meet the unmet needs,” said Lamey.
The long-term recovery efforts from the tornado can continue months after the storm. It can take time to determine all of the needs that insurance does not provide.
“Long-term recovery from 2011 took 18 months. It can be a year to a year and a half before we know the needs,” said Williamson.
Green’s donation to the Community Foundation has joined the numerous others that have come from across the nation. What began with an expression of support to her home of five years turned to a design of relief for her community.
“I have lived here my whole adult life. I always knew that it was home to me – it has a special place in my heart. Now after seeing how supportive everyone is of each other it has just made it so much more special,” Green said.