Kevin Hurst Provides A Firsthand Look On How North Texans Are Pulling Together Following Recent Tornadic Devastation And How To Help

With spring weather sporadically tearing up families and homes, its devastation only provides a rallying point for both friends and strangers to help the healing process. Following the recent onslaught of tornadic activities on Saturday, April 29, Neiman Marcus Director of Charitable Giving and Associate Volunteerism Kevin Hurst was able to see firsthand the ruination and the coming together. He has kindly shared his experience in the following report with photos:

Kevin Hurst (File photo)

If you have not personally been affected by a man-made or natural disaster, then you most likely have not seen first-hand what the destruction really looks like. The one-dimensional electronic images on TV, online, and print do not accurately portray the three-dimensional devastation.

As the director of charitable giving, and the steward of Neiman Marcus associate’s donations to the Neiman Marcus Disaster Relief Fund, I was recently invited to take a tour and witness the catastrophic damage that Canton and the surrounding communities suffered when four separate tornadoes moved through the area on Saturday, April 29. On May 4, I joined the American Red Cross and other corporate supporters for a 60-mile journey just east of Dallas.

During the drive, we heard all of the facts and figures:

  • four tornadoes, one of which was an F4 (the second highest type),
  • one tornado stayed on the ground for 51 miles, which is completely rare
  • 7,019 meals served to affected families and volunteers
  • 2,910 comfort and clean up kits distributed
  • The speed at which two emergency shelters had been set up
  • 100 homes destroyed or uninhabitable

The facts and figures are just that…facts and figures.  

On the day of our tour, the sky was a vibrant blue and not a cloud in sight…there was even a slight breeze to keep things cool. Just the day before, the area had once again been under a severe storm watch with the possibility of hail. In fact, we were told to wear thick sole shoes and long sleeve shirts. In addition to the storm damage, the demolition of homes had already begun causing insulation particles to float in the air. I recall seeing one house being torn down as we drove down a rural road and thought about the juxtaposition of the destruction with the glistening elements in the air.  It almost seemed like snowflakes floating to the ground.

We had been coached that we should not ask too many questions. Each person would be at a different place in the grieving process. It was best to let them talk as little or as much as they wanted and we should simply say “I am sorry for what you are going through.”

It wasn’t until we started delivering water to those families that reality set in. I think it is safe to say that our demeanors changed from that of an outsider looking in, to one who was now able to truly empathize with those affected.

Our first stop was at a trailer home. We were greeted by a 60-something year old gentleman, “Mark,” seated in a lawn chair in the middle of his yard. He was having lunch which consisted of a hamburger, bagged chips, and a bottle of water; all of which were provided by the local church that had set up grills to help feed their neighbors. Mark’s 86-year old mother, sister, and a young child were all home when the storm hit. They huddled together in an interior room. When it was over, the entire mobile home had been lifted eight inches and moved one foot from its original foundation. The branch of a large tree fell directly into the middle of the home, most likely preventing it from being completely blown away. Needless to say, their home is uninhabitable. The irony is that most of their personal possessions like photographs and keepsakes were all intact.

As I snapped these photographs, I again thought about the juxtaposition of the scene…the tattered American and Texas flags proudly displayed and waving against a backdrop of ruins.

Blue tarp covers the hole left from the tree branch*

To compound the tragedy, Mark’s brother was visiting in a travel camper and was inside of it with his dog. The tornado picked it up, slammed it on its side, and peeled the roof off extracting all of the contents. Thankfully the two walked away with minor cuts and bruises. The door of the travel camper was located wrapped around a tree.  

Campers on its side*

Inside camper with roof peeled off and door of camper wrapped around tree*

As we were visiting, a retired veteran and neighbor, “Bob,” came to talk to us. At first glance, his house directly across the street appeared to be unscathed, however that was not the case. He shared that the entire roof pulsated up and down during the storm loosening ceiling joists and cracking walls. As a trained storm spotter, he knew exactly what to do in the case of a storm and was prepared with a back-up generator, thus allowing him to continue living in his home. Being trained doesn’t necessarily mean that you are exempt.  

Bob has a cell phone tower on his land. When the company came out to inspect it, the technician climbed about ten to fifteen stories to the top. He reported that he could actually see the trench of destruction in the ground and where the tornado made a 90 degree turn to his neighbor’s mobile home.

I mentioned that our Red Cross guide said people would be at different stages of grieving. For both Mark and Bob they were grateful. Grateful not only that they were alive, but they still had some place to call home. I have to say how “impressed” (if that is even the appropriate word) I was with Mark. He was completely open and seemed almost anxious to share his story. We were told that people find it therapeutic to talk about the event.  He invited us to walk around his property and take pictures. I almost felt like it was a badge of honor for him…perhaps if only because his family was safe. As for Bob, and I suspect because of his storm training, he had a different perspective. He actually said he was “happy” it happened. He explained that this storm actually brought his community together; neighbor helping neighbor.

Showroom buildings (left) new and (right) old*

Damaged vehicles*

Our next stop was a Dodge dealership which took a direct hit. The dealership had just completed construction on the new showroom building on Friday. They were in the process of moving everything over from the small, outdated showroom building across the parking lot when the tornado hit on Saturday. Literally, every vehicle sustained damage. Some vehicles were thrown over 200 yards into an adjacent pasture. All that was left of the new building was the steel frame and the old building was completely flattened. A neighboring house across the pasture took a direct hit. Rather than flattening it, the tornado went right through the middle leaving a gaping path with both sides still standing.

In part, this visit was organized by the American Red Cross to demonstrate their quick response and the programs and services provided in a time of crisis. In reality, it demonstrated so much more. It demonstrated the force of nature. It demonstrated the gratitude and compassion of individuals. It demonstrated the resiliency of a community. For me, it validated our decision to become a National Disaster Partner with the American Red Cross. I mentioned earlier that I act as a steward of our associate’s donations to the Neiman Marcus Disaster Relief fund. This support allows the Red Cross to be ready within hours to activate the volunteer network and provide food, water, shelter, products, and other services that would help those affected start to recover from this life-changing event.

Amaryllis*

One final juxtaposition and photo. Amid the piles of debris at Mark’s home, I saw this Amaryllis flower.  It was seemingly untouched by the winds and flying materials.

The genus name Amaryllis comes from the Greek word “amarysso,” which means “to sparkle.” In Greek mythology, it was the name of a shepherdess who shed her own blood to prove her true love, and in so doing inspired the naming of this flower.

Similar to the flying insulation particles that glistened in the sunlight, this Amaryllis equally sparkled. We can only hope that much like Greek mythology, this lone flower will act as a shepherd of hope for the community and shed pollen to spawn new life.

* Photo credit: Kevin Hurst

North Texas Giving Day Booster: American Red Cross

“’Tex’ never thought he’d be a disaster victim. But when a tornado tore his home apart this past spring leaving him badly injured, he was grateful to the Red Cross for providing safe shelter, hot meals, blankets and supplies for his family.

Bulk Supplies*

Bulk Supplies*

“As a former commanding officer in the United States Navy, I can’t count how many service members I stood with as I handed them an emergency message from home. Some were facing a breakdown in childcare while others were notified about a birth or the passing of someone they loved. The messages I delivered came from the American Red Cross.

“Already this year, 15 kids have drown in North Texas. That’s unimaginable so the Red Cross is doing everything we can to teach kids how to swim and teen-agers how to guard the water.

Used for the 2014 Aquatic Attraction Lifeguarding course presentation and other materials related to this course.  Pictures depict lifeguards in a waterpark setting demonstrating the skills needed for lifeguards to get certified to work in this environment. Photo by Michael Del Polito/American Red Cross © Stock photo taken for the American Red Cross*

Used for the 2014 Aquatic Attraction Lifeguarding course presentation and other materials related to this course. Pictures depict lifeguards in a waterpark setting demonstrating the skills needed for lifeguards to get certified to work in this environment. Photo by Michael Del Polito/American Red Cross
© Stock photo taken for the American Red Cross*

“From unspeakable tragedies to the uncertainties of military life, the Red Cross helps thousands of North Texas families every day. For each family, the service we provide is meaningful. And thanks to North Texas Giving Day, those services will #MeanMore because of the multiplied gift.

August 1, 2011. Fort Belvoir Army Base, Virginia. Stock photo of the Army. Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

August 1, 2011. Fort Belvoir Army Base, Virginia. Stock photo of the Army. Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

“Last year alone, we helped more than 1,400 North Texas families after they lost everything in home fires. That’s too many so we launched a campaign to purchase smoke alarms and install them in our most at-risk communities. Ordinarily, a donation of $30 purchases two smoke alarms, but on Giving Day, that gift will #MeanMore.

“We can #MeanMore to military members and their families on Giving Day as we gain additional resources to support our 24/7 emergency message service and conduct briefings at military bases around the area. Nearly 19,000 service members and their families in DFW had contact from the Red Cross last year.

Brian Riddle holds therapy dog Toffee at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Brian Riddle holds therapy dog Toffee at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

“More kids can learn to swim, more lifeguards can be trained and more water safety classroom sessions can be provided because gifts #MeanMore when they’re multiplied.

“We’re honored to be a part of North Texas Giving Day and to see the power of the donated dollar at work. Throughout this campaign, we’ll be using our #MeanMore hashtag to share even more stories that highlight how gifts are used to help North Texans.

“We believe that we can all #DoMore when we join together on September 17, which in turn will #MeanMore to everyone who needs our help.

“Happy Giving Day!”

By T.D. Smyers, American Red Cross North Texas Region Chief Executive Officer

* Photos provided by American Red Cross

Could-We-Use-The-Help-And-How: American Red Cross

American Red Cross

“As a disaster relief agency that responds to someone’s worst day 24/7/365, we live and breathe by volunteers. Lucky for us, we have a good roster of committed people who willingly get out of bed in the middle of the night to respond to home fires, tornadoes or work around the clock in hurricane evacuation shelters. But the reality is this, the Red Cross needs more volunteers. A lot more.

“The numbers are downright scary. Right now, we have just under 500 trained volunteers ready to open shelters and take care of people. But in the event of a full-scale hurricane evacuation like we experienced with Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, it would take an additional 700 volunteers to staff some 30 Red Cross shelters around the clock.  

“Bottom line, we love our volunteers and we want more of them. That’s where you come in. Take your Red Cross volunteer training now. You can work in shelters, serve meals, manage the supply warehouse and inventories and so much more. You can give a little or a lot of your time; it’s really up to you. When the next disaster strikes, we hope you’re on our side helping us deliver life-saving services to the people who need it most. It truly will be the best job you’ll never got paid to do.

“To learn more, or to sign up today, visit www.redcrossdallas.org/volunteer or call us at 214-678-4368.”

Jennifer Bussell, Recruitment Associate

MySweetCharity’s Make-Believe-Benefactor: James Hatcher

James Hatcher

Red Cross-because they help so many; especially those in dire emergencies!

A neighbor’s house burned down in the middle of the night last week.

The Red Cross arrived shortly after the fire trucks………….”

James Hatcher

Billie Leigh Rippey And Her Tiffany Circle Ranked #1 In The American Red Cross World

Photo provided by the American Red Cross

It’s extremely pleasing when Dallas folks score a numero uno place nationally. And that’s exactly what the Dallas-Area Chapter Tiffany Circle of the American Red Cross did when they attended the annual Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. Honorary Chair Billie Leigh Rippey (pictured in red with, from the left, Cathy Keating, Anne Compton and Tricia Besing) and her entourage brought home top honors.

(In case you’re brand new to the world of giving, the Tiffany Circl is a society of female leaders and philanthropists who annually invest $10,000 in their local American Red Cross chapters.)

With 300 Tiffany Circle women in attendance, the Dallas 10 brought home “two prestigious awards that honored them for having hte most Tiffany Circle Members in the nation, as well as the most commitments to the Bonnie McEvleen-Hunter Lifetime membership (a gift of $100,000 that spans over 10 years).

Just in case you’re wondering, the 52 members of the Dallas Tiffany Circle have raised more than $1,001,612 for the Red Cross to use in the local community.

Who are the 52? Of course, you want names, so here goes: [Read more…]