Thursday, June 2, 2011

One woman gathers other hearts to help Mississippi tornado victims

Man in Okolona, MS cooking out.  Walter C. Black, Photographer.
Tornadoes have completely devastated many areas in the South and Midwest in May.  People in Mississippi are among the hardest hit because they were already suffering due to the sluggish economy. Antoinette Harrell of Gathering of Hearts has been giving her all to helping to ease the burdens the folks in these communities face.

She has been an eyewitness to the devastation and has looked into the weary faces of the unfortunate victims and assessed their individual circumstances.  She has seen roads that were completely destroyed like the area in Okolona, Mississippi where 12 families were completely wiped out.
Antoinette doing an assessment. Walter C. Black, Sr., Photographer.  
Antoinette was taken on tours of Clay, Chickasaw, and Monroe Counties.  Al White, the Executive Administrator and Coordinator for Silent Heroes and Education Reform, contacted her and alerted her of the needs and made the needed contacts.  She also toured areas of Mississippi with Cherrae Oats, the Executive Director of the Fannie Lou Hamer Center for Change.  Ms. Oats is the niece of Fannie Lou Hamer.

Cherrae Oats and Antoinette Harrell.  Photographer, Walter C. Black, Sr. 
Of the 12 homes, eight were trailers.  Many did not have insurance because they could not afford it.  She saw one family with a tent set up outside where they were cooking food.

"It is sad to see families picking from the debris to save what they could.  Most of what they were trying to save were documents and photos.  Most secure documents in a secure place, but the winds of the tornadoes were strong.  Trees blew around and snapped like toothpicks. This was my first time seeing and assessing the effects of a tornado to see how Gathering of Hearts could help these people whose lives have been changed with little warning,"  said Antoinette Harrell.

"I saw people helping people.  Churches and neighbors came to their rescue providing food and clothing. What is not surprising is that the community pointed out how people sometimes take the time away from themselves to tell you about their neighbor who is also in need of help."

"Families who did not have insurance will have to stay with someone else or be on their own living in makeshift shelters until they can get their lives back in order.  "I saw two families clearing land to prepare to come back, taking photos, and fighting back the tears. They are trying to hold it all together and be strong for the children."

Tent for family.  Walter C. Black Sr., Photographer.

Antoinette also explained that since Katrina in 2005, some families are still displaced.  They are faced with applying for FEMA funding at a time where FEMA is seeking for those who were helped between 2007 and 2008 to repay.  Eighty-one year old, Phyllis Drake, who lives on a fixed income, is being asked to repay $10,000 from funds given after flooding in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.  See  Two flood victims in Gays Mills appeal FEMA’s request to give aid back.

 "I am not optimistic about the future of the families today who receive help. Some families living in flooded areas had insurance, but not flood insurance.  They may be caught in the same situation.  Most already been hit by the economy only had money for basic necessities.  They must rely on non-profit and private organizations to help rebuild and donate building materials and tools."

Antoinette Harrell is connecting with some amazing people with hearts greater than gold.  One such person, Nethanel Nasi, regular listener to Nurturing Our Roots, made his second trip to the Mississippi with a 24-foot U-Haul once again filled with clothes, water, food, baby items, shoes, water, barbecue grills, and other items needed to help victims donated by the good people of Cincinnati, Ohio.  The adverse weather conditions did not deter him from service even though he drove through the hazardous conditions.

These are a few photos from this week when Gathering of Hearts unloaded the truck:

Dr. Al Sampson, Antoinette Harrell, and Nethanel Nasi (Right) Walter C. Black, Sr, Photographer.
Unloading. Walter C. Black, Sr. Photographer.
Walter C. Black, Sr.
Special thanks to Jackie Howard, Bobbi Smith, First AME Zion Church and Pastor Tyler, along with special residents of of Columbus, Ohio for their generous contributions to the residents of Mississippi.
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