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After twister, state firms rush in

Wal-Mart,Tyson giving supplies, meals to victims, helpers

By Cyd King , Tina Parker

This article was published April 29, 2014 at 3:35 a.m.


STAFF PHOTO ANTHONY REYES Kurt Laumer, driver with Tyson Foods, connects the hydraulics and electronics connections from his tractor to the Tyson Foods Meals That Matter Disaster Relief Trailer Monday, April 28, 2014 at a Tyson facility in Springdale. The trailer, equipped with a refrigerated and dry storage areas, will haul food and other supplies to the tornado damaged area in central Arkansas to provide support to residents and rescue workers. Cook teams from three other Tyson plants will help prepare and serve three meals a day.

Kevin Stephens, store manager of Wal-Mart No. 5 in Conway, couldn’t wait for help to get to employees and others whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Sunday’s deadly tornado that ripped through Faulkner County.

After talking to a shift manager who had lost his house in Vilonia, Stephens loaded up his Chevrolet pickup with cases of bottled water and ice chests and headed in the direction of disaster from his home in Maumelle.

“You couldn’t have put another thing in my truck,” Stephens said Monday, an adrenaline rush still carrying him quickly from one sentence to the next. He was running on just two hours of sleep.

Corporations such as Tyson Foods Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have pledged support to Arkansans who are regrouping after a tornado barreled through the state Sunday.

On Monday morning, Tyson Foods sent its Meals That Matter trailer to Mayflower High School, where three teams will provide meals for tornado victims and relief workers. The teams, which are from the company’s Clarksville, Texarkana and Dardanelle plants, will serve three meals a day.

The refrigerated, 53-foot tractor-trailer will serve as the meal headquarters, with tables and chairs set up nearby.

“We will be on the ground serving food by 5 p.m. Monday,” said company spokesman Krista Cupp.

There is not a set amount of time that the trailer and cooks will provide meals, but they will stay as long as they’re needed, Cupp said.

“It’s really important to us to be involved with disaster relief, especially when it’s right here in our backyard in Arkansas,” she said.

After the tornado in Moore, Okla., last year, the Meals That Matter team was dispatched for two weeks, and 80,000 meals were served to victims and relief workers.

Two 53-foot tractor-trailers full of Wal-Mart water were expected to arrive in the affected areas Monday afternoon, and while Stephens was coordinating the distribution of goods to people in Vilonia, one of his assistant managers - a volunteer fireman - was checking the safety of local bridges.

On Sunday night, the shift manager at Stephens’ Wal-Mart - who’d lost his home - was less concerned about his own situation and focused more on the body of a deceased person he was guarding while on the phone with Stephens. The shift manager and his family had survived by hunkering down in a bathroom.

One wall of the bathroom was all that was left standing when the roar of the tornado stopped, Stephens said.

“People were yelling for help. They were stuck and trapped,” he recalled the manager telling him and texting him on the phone. “I just felt so helpless.”

About 95 percent of the U.S. population lives within 15 miles of a Wal-Mart, so when catastrophe hits, Wal-Mart’s size and scale allows it to respond quickly and in bulk, said Wal-Mart spokesman Dianna Gee.

“We applaud the efforts of our store managers who worked last night within an hour of the storm passing through to begin loading pallets of donations such as in water, snacks, tarps, batteries, flashlights … for survivors and first responders,” Gee said.

The relief area for Vilonia is Point of Grace Church at 767 U.S. 64B in Conway. For Mayflower, goods are being distributed from the American Red Cross Distribution Center at 401 S. Monroe St. in Little Rock.

Also on Monday, Wal-Mart trucks were headed to central Arkansas from other areas to replenish the stores that provided relief.

As for the loss suffered by employees, Gee said, “We are aware of a few associates who lost their homes, and we’re working with them to try to help out as much as possible with their immediate needs.”

Business, Pages 23 on 04/29/2014

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