Following the seven tornadoes that struck north Georgia and southeast Tennessee on April 27, 2011, Adventists from the Collegedale/Chattanooga area sprang into action to help. All the area Adventist churches were involved in some type of response. Some fed volunteers and victims, some got their chainsaws and began clearing trees, some picked up debris, etc. Southern Adventist University opened its dorms (following graduation) so victims would have a place to stay, and FEMA used the Hulsey Wellness Center on campus to serve as a place where survivors could come to apply for government assistance.
Adventist Community Services/Disaster Response (ACS/DR) was asked to manage a donated-goods warehouse to serve both Hamilton and Bradley counties. The facility, a 40,000 sq/ft building, was donated by the Whitewing Christian Bookstore, a Church of God facility in Cleveland, Tenn. The building was turned over to ACS/DR on April 28, equipment was set up on April 29, and they began operations on April 30 and stayed operating until June 30.
During that time, the warehouse served 35 different agencies, logging 7,336 hours of volunteer time. Volunteer time is important because the county government uses that time to help defray the amount they have to pay toward a 25/75 percent split of costs of the total response, with the county picking up the 25 percent and FEMA covering 75 percent. With the volunteer hours that ACS/DR turned in, plus what the Southern Baptists reported, the county’s share of the costs was reduced to less than one percent!
Warehouses don’t serve survivors directly, they only serve other agencies that meet the needs of survivors by operating distribution centers. It is called a multi-agency warehouse, because anyone who is serving victims can draw supplies from the warehouse.
Nearly every survivor was served at one time or another by supplies provided through the warehouse. The Apison Adventist Church became a distribution center, serving 50 families (150 individuals) for six weeks. Their 88 volunteers logged 1,679 hours, which also were used by the counties to defray costs.
The Samaritan Center/ACS thrift store operation in Ooltewah, Tenn., was also heavily involved in response, beginning by doing mobile distribution and transitioning to casework, rebuilding support, and other activities, helping the people in the area to recover for several months, until most were back in their homes again. The Center became an important part of the recovery process by being a member of the local Long-term Recovery Committee, working with other private response agencies and county, state and federal governmental agencies to form a cohesive recovery system that made sure all victims had access to recovery donated goods, financial assistance, and volunteer labor.
The Georgia-Cumberland Conference’s shower trailer was used, first to give access to victims and volunteers to hot showers in the disaster area, then was moved between the Apison Methodist Church and the Westview Baptist Church, who were housing volunteers, but didn’t have shower facilities. It was used for several months in that capacity.
Because of the heavy concentration of Adventists in the Collegedale area, Adventist response was heavy. Apison, the area hardest hit, is the next village to Collegedale, and many people were neighbors of Adventists. Several Adventists living in Apison were also victimized by the storms, and all drew closer to their neighbors as a result of these storms.