By Daniel Brunty
The Winston County Journal
In the aftermath of the April 28 storms and tornadoes damaging portions of Winston County, residents’ moral is ever increasing, as many are slowly pulling together the pieces and moving forward with their lives.
As with many natural disasters, federal and state government agencies are at the forefront of spearheading recovery in affected areas. Many of the agencies stay for the initial surge of assistance that is needed to stabilize the situation. Once there is stability, the job of local government agencies plays a more important part, and the assistance of volunteers is an essential need to recovery.
One organization that has been a critical part of the organizing volunteers to assist with the long-term restoration efforts of the county has been “WinstonStrong”, a fund that was created through the efforts of the Winston County Partnership. A nine member board was created to administer the funds with direction provided by MEMA and FEMA. The location for their warehouse is 902 South Columbus Street in Louisville.
Hubert Yates, Volunteer Coordinator for “WinstonStrong”, has been hard at work organizing volunteers in the county and hopes that this will continue in the future. “We have had slightly over 3,000 volunteers total,” Yates said. “We are up now around 26 to 27,000 man hours of work that has been done. The majority of the cleanup work that you see has been done by volunteers.”
With a huge portion of cleanup being done throughout the county, Yates is looking forward to the next step in the process. “Now we are transitioning into the repair phase,” Yates said. “This is where we are going in and assisting qualified homeowners with repairs to their homes, which include roofing, carpentry work, windows, doors, and other things. From there we are moving into the rebuild, where we actually have crews that are coming in and actually rebuilding homes. We right now have five homes that are in various stages of the rebuild process. We anticipate most likely building somewhere within the range of 50 to 100 homes before we are through. That is just our estimate at this point”
Volunteers are not only individuals, but many organizations have sent crews to Winston County to volunteer their time and effort as well. “The majority of our volunteers are faith-based groups and churches,” Yates said. “We had churches from inside the state of Mississippi that have came and helped out in all phases so far. We currently have two on-ground right now, Dumas Baptist Church from North Mississippi, as well as Catholic church that left yesterday that had been here all weekend from the coast. We have teams scheduled to come in from Alabama and West Virginia. We have teams right now from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. They have all sent teams here over the last nine weeks. We are anticipating crews from throughout the South to come and assist us.”
Yates is proud of the number of volunteers that have participated, however, there are still some needs that the organization still needs to fill. “Individuals with specific skills can go and sign up to volunteer can go to our website www.winstonstrong.org,” Yates said. “We are looking for some specific skills. We are in great need of people who can do building & project estimates, and assessments on structures for repair or rebuild classification, carpentry, forklift operators, warehouse managers, and other positions.”
Yates is hoping to find volunteers for these positions soon. Until then, WinstonStrong will continue to lead the charge in the recovery process for the county as well as bring hope to those who may have lost it.
“We had an older lady, who had been out of her house due to the storm, that we initially could not get a cleanup crew out to clean her yard,” Yates said. “But this week we were able to get in a crew to cut up the downed trees in the yard with a chainsaw and moved them to the road. At the time she was not home, because she has been displaced. But she called yesterday and asked for permission to meet the group that cleaned up her yard, so we are setting that up at this time. The people in the community are thankful, just to know there is a hand out there to help you up when you are down. It goes a long way.”
Not only does the community feel thankful, but the volunteers are also feeling the emotion as well. “The people who are doing the work get the blessing of having helped someone, and the community is receiving the reward of someone helping them, which is also a blessing,” Yates said. “So it’s two-fold.”
If you or an organization would like to volunteer, you may contact “WinstonStrong” at 405-403-1817, or visit www.winstonstrong.org. You may also contact Rev. Mike Dowd through the Winston County Partnership at 662-773-8719.
To make a donation by check – make checks payable to:
Winston Community Development Disaster Relief Fund
P.O. Box 389
Louisville, Ms. 39339
or stop by your local Renasant Bank.