By Guest Blogger Don Milholin
As Executive Director and President of Out of the Garden Project, the largest charity in the Piedmont whose mission is feeding children and their families, I generally wouldn’t classify my Sunday nights as spectacular.
However, on April 15, 2018, a funnel cloud touched down on the east side of Greensboro, North Carolina, taking a life and leaving much damage in its path. This was no typical Sunday and no typical twister. One report said the tornado was on the ground for 17 miles; another said more than 30. If you were in the path of the tornado, the only thing you must have been thinking about were those you love and what would be left of your world if any of you survived.
At around 6pm Sunday night, one of our donation-pickup drivers, Joy, called to tell me that a tree had fallen on her house and car and that she would not be able to do her normal pickups from Panera for OOTGP later that evening. Living on the side of town where nothing had been disturbed, I wasn’t yet aware of the extent of the destruction, but I quickly learned more. Around 9:30pm, Jim Faggione, Director of Nutrition for Guilford County Schools, called me to see if they could use the Farmers’ Market parking lot to distribute meals to children the next day, since schools would be closed, due to storm damage. We had used the same parking lot the previous summer, in partnership with the county nutrition department, and our administrative offices are at the market as well, so that is why he contacted me.
Early the next morning, Erik Naglee, principal of Northwest Middle School and member of the OOTGP board of directors, contacted me to ask what we could do for those impacted by the tornado. The home of one of his teacher’s mother had been in the path of the tornado. So at 8am, Erik, his wife, Devon, and a couple of his staff met me at our warehouse at the
Church On 68, and we loaded one of our trucks with pallets of water and Panera Bread donations. We arrived in the Peeler Elementary School neighborhood by 10am. We had to lift several downed power lines in order to get into the neighborhood, but we were determined to reach those who needed our help.
From April 16, 2018, until Sunday, April 22, 2018, OOTGP “camped out” in the parking lot of Peeler Elementary School, located in a “ground zero” neighborhood, operating what became a free “store” of food, water, clothing and toiletry items. Amazing groups of volunteers helped us provide lunches and dinners, as we distributed more than 15,000 water bottles, 3000+ meals, and thousands of pounds of clothing and personal items. The next week, Second Harvest Food Bank partnered with us, and our volunteers distributed more than 30,000 pounds of produce and Tyson Chicken.
Those are highlights from just the first two weeks. A month later, the work continues. The neighborhoods have not yet recovered. Many families have lost everything. The schools have not yet recovered. Many school buildings cannot be repaired, and hundreds of students have been uprooted and moved to other schools to finish the year. This spring tornado was a very traumatic event that will leave its mark for years. So how do we remain hopeful? How do we calmly move forward in the wake of devastation? We do it by finding the silver lining, which, this time, is the silver lining in a funnel cloud.
Yes, there was great destruction. Yes, many were homeless and hungry. Yes, many lost everything.
But many were helped. Many cared. Our volunteers and staff have been tremendously inspired by the lives we were able to touch, by people who responded to us with appreciation, kindness, and the desire to serve. That is the silver lining.
I have never been more proud of my city. The love and kindness shown by so many was unending and continues today. So many individuals and groups contributed funds and items. Several, when noticing that something was lacking, would go purchase more of whatever was most needed at that moment. Many groups provided meals, giving a personal touch that put smiles on faces of those who had just experienced horror and shock the rest of us cannot imagine.
Our purpose at Out of the Garden Project is “to nourish children’s minds and bodies with food and hope.” Hope. With every single delivery to our warehouse or emergency site, our community has shown its amazing capacity for sharing and inspiring hope. It is unfortunate that it takes something like a funnel cloud to bring out the best in us. My hope is that the feeling of unity that arose in the wake of this storm – those days when we weren’t “us and them” but just “us” – will someday be the only sign that a tornado was ever here at all.
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