Local relief supplies delivered to Cullman

Published 11:58 pm Monday, May 2, 2011

City of Atmore officials and firemen, along with the staff at Pepsi Bottling of Atmore pose in front of an 18-wheeler filled with relief supplies collected for storm victims prior to heading to Cullman County Monday morning. Pictured include, from left, Ron Peebles, Assistant Chief Mike Staples, Jeremy Lisenby, Bro. Don Davis, Wayne Harris, Mayor Howard Shell, Zack Stewart, Ronnie Johnson, Chris Hughes, David Adams, Hooper Matthews, Chief Gerry McGhee, Dale Ash and Webb Nall.|Photo by Adam Prestridge

An 18-wheeler stacked full of much-needed tornado relief supplies pulled out of Atmore early Monday morning heading to Cullman County.

Pepsi Cola Bottling of Atmore donated use of the truck to transfer the supplies, which were collected Friday through Sunday at the corner of Hwy. 31 and Presley Street.

Mayor Howard Shell was overwhelmed by the graciousness of the Atmore community.

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“If anyone knows how important it is to have supplies following a storm, we do,” he said. “However, these people lost everything, and the citizens of Atmore remembered how important those supplies were to us and gave back.”

The seasoned mayor said that he began looking for towns to help immediately following the tornadoes that ripped through north Alabama April 27 killing nearly 250 people.

“This is not the first time that we have experienced catastrophic damage, not near to the extent that they have in north Alabama,” Shell said. “As soon as I got in the office Thursday, I began to look for small towns that were not being covered and got in touch with the people in Cullman Friday, they had not been receiving anything.”

The word was then spread by phone calls to various businesses and organizations and popular social media sites such as Facebook.

“We had an overwhelming amount of people and organizations volunteering,” Shell said.

Carl Smith Chevrolet and Pee Wee Construction donated the fuel for the trip and Alto Products donated the boxes the supplies were shipped in.

Shell said that the city has experienced catastrophes in the past and he was pleased that Atmore residents remembered those who gave to the town following hurricanes Ivan and Dennis.

“It lets me know that people remember when we were the victims and people stepped up to the plate to help us,” Shell said. “It’s just overwhelming to see the response from people, and the ones that did not have an opportunity can now have another opportunity.”

Atmore Fire Department Chief Gerry McGhee, along with firemen Zack Stewart and Chris Hughes, escorted the 18-wheeler for the 260-mile trip. Pepsi Warehouse manager David Adams drove the truck to its destination with Ronnie Johnson at his side. Prior to the truck pulling out Monday, First Assembly of God Pastor Don Davis prayed for the group to have a safe trip and return while on their mission.

“We were able to fill that truck completely full in just two and a half days,” Shell said. “It is full to the brim. After you’ve been hit like we have in the past, you don’t have a problem responding immediately to their needs.”

The truck was back in the same location Tuesday morning. Donations are once again being accepted from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. as efforts begin to fill it up again to send to another town devastated by last Wednesday’s tornadoes.

Shell said that he is unsure where the next load of supplies will be delivered, but he has been in touch with the Emergency Management Agency, which will suggest a destination for the supplies Thursday. However, Davis gave a $500 donation for 100 cases of water from First Assembly of God to get the new drive started.

In addition to the city’s efforts, Atmore Christian School left at 5 a.m. this morning heading to Pleasant Grove to assist in cleanup efforts.

“Our whole high school is going and some parents are going along with them,” Principal Tim Battles said. “I want these kids to have the experience of cleaning up and being able to help people out. One thing that is encouraging is that they were immediately excited to go help.”

The neighborhood the students and volunteers, totaling more than 30, will be visiting is where Escambia County High School Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Mark Heaton’s brother, David, lost his home to the violent storm. Heaton will be joining in the group to aid in the cleanup efforts.

This weekend, May 6 and 7, members and volunteers with Mennonite Christian Fellowship will also be traveling to north Alabama for a two-day relief effort in the Shoal Creek area. Organizer Jerry Gehman said anyone looking to help can contact him to travel with the group.

“We will need chainsaws with oil and gas, axes, hammers, pry-bars, wheel barrows, gloves and safety glasses,” he said.

Gehman said the group will form “chainsaw gangs” to help in debris removal and also install tarps and work food and clothing distribution while on the trip. He added that money would be needed for food while on the trip

There are only 88 seats available on two buses, so registrants will be accepted on a first come, first serve bases. To volunteer, contact Gehman at 251-294-2724.

Winn Dixie Stores, Inc. is also doing its part to aid in tornado relief. Customers can find “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” donation sheets available at all registers at its more than 480 location, where they can donate an amount between 50 cents and $500 directly to the American Red Cross.