Lee team serves Polk County residents in tornado aftermath

Lee team serves Polk County residents in tornado aftermath

Tatum McKinnon (front) helps clean up tornado damage alongside fellow students and Campus Pastor Jimmy Harper (left) in Polk County, TN on Saturday, Dec. 3.

Photos by Kimberly Sebring

The red and white bus bounced along Highway 74, carrying 14 Lee students and two faculty members to provide relief to the residents of the tornado-devastated Polk County area on Saturday, Dec. 3.

Students gazed and gasped at the strange sights outside the windows as they passed by broken trees, scattered debris and what remained of homes that had been stripped from their foundations.

After receiving a safety briefing, the group headed towards Reynolds Bridge Rd., where they found a home with a missing roof and fragments of shingles, metal and wood scattered all over the backyard.

Storm Enriques, a daughter in the affected family, expressed her thanks to the Lee group for assisting in the property cleanup.

“We’re very grateful for all the help we’ve had, lots of friends, [Lee] guys,” Enriques said. “We all made it out, we lost stuff but you know we all walked away and just the community coming together has been so overwhelming. It’s been great, it’s been really heartwarming.”

Students (from left) Amelia Wilson, Yinka Adedayo and Cassidy Gray help clean up tornado debris on Saturday, Dec. 3.

Sophomore business and accounting major Cassidy Gray was grateful to be part of serving an area so close to campus.

“I think for me it always seems that to go serve and to go into like a natural disaster area and that sort of thing, it always seems so difficult and that you can’t get to that situation,” Gray said. “But…it’s easier and more accessible than I think and it’s just a matter of saying yes to an opportunity to serve than it is to make an excuse of why not to serve.”

After Campus Pastor Jimmy Harper led a prayer, the team made their way to Stump St., where they arrived at the site where two Polk County residents – a married couple – were killed during the storm on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

For almost half an hour, shocked students walked around surveying the massive debris piles and few cinder blocks that were all that remained of the home. Dust-covered stuffed animals, warped furniture, scattered clothing and dirt-buried keepsakes were just some of the sights on the ground where the group began to salvage all they could.

While picking through the items, Sophomore human development major Emily Gates reflected on how the lives of people compare to material things.

“It really just does not matter at the end of the day like the things that we have – it’s just the people that we have that really matters,” Gates said. “I think that that’s what I’m taking away is just like how little things of this world actually matter but just the lives and how meaningful they are.”

Rhonda McCartney, a cousin of one of the deceased residents, was thankful for the assistance from Lee and the Polk County community.

“It’s just rough, and we’ll get through it,” McCartney said. “But they have been fabulous, everybody.”

The group was served free hot lunches by the American Red Cross disaster relief team and then invited into a resident home to eat and stay warm. Several other families and emergency personnel periodically checked in to make sure the students had everything they needed to help.

Lee students (from left) Anna Kholod, Addison Anton and Tamerra Fleming receive hot meals from the American Red Cross disaster relief team in Polk County, TN on Saturday, Dec. 3.

“One of the things that stuck out to me was how much people…the community cares about each other enough to help their fellow man and I find that really encouraging,” junior political science major Ben Absher said.

The community’s faith also had an impact on the students who served, including senior biology major Yinka Adedayo.

“I was looking at the people and their attitudes towards everything and I was wondering if my faith would be as solid…after anything like that happened to me,” Adedayo said.

Gray also felt the impact of faithfulness amid such devastation.

“To hear someone speak about the Lord from a place of such devastation really spoke to me,” Gray said. “It was just like the restoration and power of the Lord but also the resilience of just humans in and of itself. It was really cool to see firsthand.”

Campus Pastor Jimmy Harper had faith that some of the student body would take the time to serve on Saturday, even with fast-approaching final exams.

“We’ve got a bunch of students at Lee who really love to serve people and take care of people so it wasn’t a surprise to me at all,” Harper said. “We want to make a difference in peoples’ lives. We want to show them, we want to be the hands and the feet of Jesus, showing people that love that He has for them.”

Tamerra Fleming moves debris from a pile on a site of tornado devastation in Polk County, TN on Saturday, Dec. 3.

Harper, who also helped lead service missions after tornadoes hit parts of Bradley and Hamilton counties in 2011, believes that part of the reason Lee exists is to impact the surrounding community in positive ways.

“People hurt, and we can’t really do anything to fix their hurt but you can just be there for them,” Harper said. “I’m so appreciative of a place like Lee where we do want to impact the community.”

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