NASCAR fans know Alabama for its famous speedway, but five people from Tiffin know it as a disaster zone. Three Tiffin adults, Karen Cost and Larry and Beth Shanabrook, and two Tiffin teens, Eric Rochester and Scott Bryant, were among a group of 12 from Fremont Alliance Church who traveled to Talladega for a week of mission work July 9-16.
With the theme "the hands and feet of Jesus," the trip was undertaken to help with relief work after the April 27 tornadoes that killed 230 people and destroyed houses, churches and businesses. Completing the team were Harry Wilson, Laurie Crabtree, Lindsay Sutter, Ben Taylor, Anna Ewing, Amanda Hoelzer and Allison Harvey.
Beth Shanabrook documented the trip with photographs and a written record of the group's activities.
"On July 9, a 13-hour trip turned to 15 hours because of traffic delays," she said. "The team stayed in the New Life Church, a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, in Talladega."
Monday through Friday, the volunteers drove 55 miles northeast to Webster's Chapel. There, a large tent was set up as a reception and distribution center for donated food, clothing and supplies. Even though more than two months had passed, many residents still were struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives. People were asked to sign in and give their Federal Emergency Management Agency number to receive what they needed. Extra donations were stored in four semi trailers across the street.
At the tent, groups of volunteers and the local volunteers received a noon meal served from a tiny concession stand trailer with no oven and only electric frying pans and a microwave. Across the street, a large smoker was set up to smoke roasts that were brought in. Beth said they met other groups from Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Georgia and Wisconsin. She noted her observations of the area.
"There are still so many needs - some homes completely gone, some half-gone are still standing, trees uprooted and tossed are still laying everywhere. Where they have logged out the timber, many stumps 10-12 feet in diameter are being hauled out to be burned," she wrote.
The Tiffin/Fremont team participated in a variety of tasks. A few stayed at the tent all week to organize and disburse donations and to prepare meals. The rest did clean-up and salvage work in the community.
At one house, three rooms had been ripped off, along with the roof. The owners had placed a tarp over the damage, but water leaked in. Volunteers hauled out soaked carpets and flooring and tore off the siding. Beth said another team came in to take down what was left of the house so the family could rebuild on the site.
Another day, the team salvaged items from a double-wide trailer that was damaged. They were able to save a double stainless steel sink, light fixtures, closet shelving, electrical boxes, two ceiling fans and a few other items. The sink was used to repair the home of an 85-year-old woman. The storm had torn off her roof, and she had water damage to the ceilings of two rooms.
"Along with repairing those areas, we also did major cleaning of a bathroom, kitchen and dining room - scrubbing walls and ceilings, painting ceilings, repairing cupboard doors, replacing the countertop. ... We put up a new curtain and blind, washed windows, mowed her lawn, etc.," Beth said.
Hot and humid conditions boosted the heat index to more than 110 degrees during the week of the mission, but everyone displaced by the tornado had found temporary shelter. Before they departed, two members of the team stayed at the church and assembled more beds in the Sunday School rooms to accommodate other groups that were expected to come after them.
"It was a true opportunity to serve others in need and to be the 'hands and feet of Jesus.' What we thought would be a blessing to those folks turned out to be a real blessing to us," Beth said.
Since the group returned, Pastor John Rohrmayer of Talladega has been in contact with the Fremont Alliance volunteers. He said now that schools are back in session, few volunteers have been coming to Webster's Chapel. Many new homes are under construction, but much work remains to be done.