I went to college at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and spent 8 years there obtaining my degrees. At the time of my graduation from graduate school, I planned to find a job locally and remain in Tuscaloosa.
I short - I loved that city and planned to have a life there.
We are no strangers to tornadic weather in Alabama, and so when some crazy storms started blowing across the south and into my home state on April 27, I was marginally concerned. Alabamians know the drill, and I knew that Birmingham weather man extraordinaire James Spann was on the job, people would be well informed.
I never expected to hear that much of my second hometown was completely and utterly destroyed.
For a quick glimpse at just how massive the destruction was, you can visit this slideshow at weather.com to see some before and after shots provided by Google Earth.
To see just how massive the monster was which did all that damage, please see this video, taken dangerously close to where the tornado was traveling. This person was insane, but this video is nothing less than captivating.
Because we were planning to be in Alabama for a few days anyway, I added an extra day to the trip so that I could go down to Tuscaloosa and offer my meager assistance in the recovery efforts. Checking the facebook "bulletin board" for volunteers and donations, I found a group searching for people willing to take victims from the hotels where they were living to Temporary Emergency Services to pick up supplies.
I got anxiety the closer I got to the exit. Everything out by the interstate is so perfectly normal, and you'd never know that five miles away is massive, total destruction. When I got into town, I met up with Sean Wrench, director of a group out of Syracuse, NY called "Forsaken Generation," who had requested the help in giving people rides. After several minutes of conversation, it was decided that we would instead go on a mission to find exactly how many displaced families were in the hotels and find a way to get supplies brought to them instead of having to constantly find ways to get them to the supplies.
In short, I became the "local" who could drive Sean around to all the places he needed to talk to people to procure food and other supplies for these families.
It was a pretty amazing experience - talking with hotel front desk clerks, hearing stories, meeting a few of the survivors and brainstorming with Sean about getting their needs met. And even though all I did was offer some information, some ideas and an afternoon of chauffeur duty, I know all that ended up getting 150 people a reliable source of food and supplies for the duration of their stay at the hotels.
When I finally got to see the damage first-hand...well, I feel like somehow my brain kind of turned off. I don't feel like I really saw it. I think it was simply too massive for my small, insignificant brain to process destruction on such a major, extreme level. Reports that it looks post-apocalyptic are not exaggerations.
So I wanted to do something else for the city that taught me much more than how to analyze literature or block a scene; how to conduct a small counseling group or eradicate -isms in the world. I want to give something more than just my services as a driver to a "real" volunteer.
That is why I created these garden flags that I hope you all will consider purchasing.
They are made from ripstop nylon and laminated canvas. They are approximately 13" x 18" and are $10.00, with every single one of those dollars going to Temporary Emergency Services in Tuscaloosa. Shipping and handling is $3.00, and for $5.00 extra I'll add your last name or "Roll Tide" or "T-Town Never Down" to the flag in black. Don't forget that I can take your credit card via Square, so just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to buy one. I won't put them on etsy because I don't want to have to pay the fees and lessen the donation (the square fees are much less), so if you have friends who might want one, please be sure to send them here to check them out!
I know that with the Mississippi river now swelling to massive levels and swallowing riverbanks and towns in it's path, that we will soon have to turn our attention to more hurting people; more families who have lost everything; more of our brothers and sisters in need. So if you don't want a flag, please consider donating to the Red Cross or Salvation Army so that those people can be helped out, too. If you don't want a flag but want to help Tuscaloosa, or any of the other cities affected in Alabama, please check out Give Tuscaloosa or The Governor's Relief Fund.