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Thursday, October 02, 2014, 9:38 a.m.
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Helping neighbors

Communities pull together to support tornado victims

By Angela Spencer

This article was published May 1, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

From left, Ashley Wilkerson, Laura Waller and Bailee Uhiren stand with some of the donations they collected at Grinds Coffee Co. in Cabot.

Less than 24 hours after a tornadic storm ripped through central Arkansas on Sunday night, volunteers started mobilizing donations to bring necessities to those in need, many who lost everything.

Miles from the devastation in Vilonia and Mayflower, the Batesville community stepped up Monday to bring donations to the tornado victims.

Scott Lancaster, general counsel for Bad Boy Mowers in Batesville, said his wife was touched by what she saw on the news that morning, which sparked a donation drive in their community.

“She just teared up and said that she hurt so badly for those people,” he said. “She looked at me and said, ‘Why can’t we load up a truck with things and send it to Vilonia?’”

Lancaster did not have a good reason to deny her request. He thought that even though Bad Boy Mowers is in the heart of its production time, the business could spare a truck for a day. The company’s owner agreed, and word went out that donations were going to be picked up and loaded in the parking lot in front of Kroger and J.C. Penney.

“We immediately started making calls, we posted it on Facebook, and we called our local bank presidents in town,” Lancaster said. “We went on the radio and made the announcement. The donations just started pouring in. It was just the most amazing thing to watch.”

By the time all the donations were collected, the Batesville community had donated three pickup and trailer loads and $7,000 in cash for the people of Vilonia. As they were packing donations, volunteers organized items in boxes to make unpacking an easy task.

Lancaster was afraid it would be difficult to get into Vilonia, so he called Independence County Sheriff Steve Jeffery, who arranged for a police escort and coordinated with the local authorities in Vilonia. The city had people waiting to let the trucks in and a place for the donations to be unloaded.

“It was very well run and very well organized,” Lancaster said.

The Batesville-based volunteers were fed dinner at Vilonia City Hall, and the ride from the unloading point to City Hall gave them a brief look at the destruction left by the storm.

“You can’t describe it. You just have to see it,” Lancaster said. “It really hit them hard over there.”

Lancaster said he often talks about being “difference makers,” and he said the Batesville community showed this week that it is full of difference makers.

“One little boy came up and said he had just had his birthday,” Lancaster said. “He gave us $100 from his birthday money and told us he wanted it to go to Vilonia. It’s just absolutely inspiring to see our residents step up the way they did.”

Once immediate needs are met, Lancaster asked Vilonia Mayor James Firestone to let him know of any specific needs the Batesville community could help meet.

Batesville was not the only community to step up in the wake of the disaster. Organizations and businesses in cities around central Arkansas and beyond started gathering supplies to deliver to victims.

Colleen Caldwell, a deaconess at Christ United Methodist Church in Cabot, said the church had already received donations of food, water, clothes and toys on Monday for tornado victims.

The church, on Arkansas 5 across from the Greystone subdivision, has been designated as one staging area and distribution point for the relief efforts.

“We’ve already been impressed by the donations we’ve got,” Caldwell said, gesturing to the 40 cases of water donated by the Greystone Country Club.

As part of the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church Disaster Response, the church will make tornado tubs — including two 18-gallon tubs with lids, insect repellent, work gloves, rubber gloves, zipper storage bags, colored duct tape, trash bags, laundry detergent and markers; and health kits — a comb, nail file or clipper, bath soap, toothbrush and bandages wrapped in a washcloth and hand towel — for those affected by the storms.

Other businesses and organizations have said they will take donations, including Linco Countertops in Cabot, Avant Garde Salone and Day Spa in Cabot, The Washboard in Cabot, Dolly’s Flea Market in Cabot, Grinds Coffee Co. in Cabot, Rayburn Sports in Cabot and Beebe City Hall.

Additionally, many churches throughout central Arkansas are taking donations.

Suggested donations include nonperishable food items, bottled water, toiletries, diapers, formula, baby wipes, pet food, blankets, pillows, flashlights, batteries, gift cards and toys.

Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or aspencer@arkansasonline.com.

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