BY DAVID FISHER
Members of the Weakley County Long Term Recovery Group hosted a Community Recovery Update for the public on Thursday, January 19, 2023, at the McWherter Civic Center in Dresden.
The Recovery Group described the process involved in assisting local citizens impacted by the Dec. 10, 2021 tornado that damaged or destroyed numerous Weakley County homes, businesses and government buildings.
The meeting included a brief overview of WCLTRG partnerships, the introduction of board members, and a financial summary of work accomplished during 2022.
As the meeting got underway, each of the board members serving on the Weakley County Long-Term Recovery Group addressed the audience and utilized a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the current status of the recovery process.
Alisha Melton, WCLTRG co-chair and allocations committee chair, addressed the audience next.
Melton said, “As chair of the allocations committee, I serve as a liaison between the funders who hold the money, and case management who identifies the needs.”
Melton listed those organizations that have donated funding for tornado disaster relief as follows: Dresden Church of Christ, Dresden Rotary, First Baptist Church of Dresden, Greenfield Church of Christ, Lebanon Church of Christ, Lutheran Disaster Response, United Way, Weakley County Baptist Association, and Tennessee – West Kentucky United Methodist Church.
Melton said, “The way it works, is case management works with survivors. Each case manager is assigned to a survivor’s case. They get to know them. They learn about their situation. They learn about what resources they have, what needs have been met for insurance, and what donations they have received outside of long-term recovery.
“At that point, they assess what is still needed and how WCLTRG can assistant them. It might be through financial means – direct money payment, or might be through donations of items needed such as furniture.
“Case management draws up a funding sheet. It’s a blind application. It doesn’t have any identifying information about the survivor. They provide that to me, and it outlines what resources are available and what resources are still needed.
“I use that funding summary to go to the funders, and I ask a certain amount of funding to be paid to the vendor performing services, and the contractor performing the work. If the funders agree to write that check, they provide a check number to me for record keeping. They deliver the check directly to the vendor. And we keep all those transactions on the spreadsheet, which is filed with United Way, so everybody has a record of what funding has been paid. Each of these funding organizations maintains its own records for financial transactions. We all collaborate in the process and we know what each other is doing. They’re responsible for their transactions and their record keeping, in addition to what we do through United Way.”
Melton stated funders have the ability to spend money outside of the WCLTRG, especially for those things that might benefit the community as a whole. One funder chose to pay for a track-hoe to benefit the City of Dresden. It does not fall under case management, it falls under long term recovery expenditures that we were tracking.
Melton stated before WCLTRG formed, these funding agencies were there the next day helping with donated items. They provided over $200,000 assistance directly to survivors. It served over 70 households by distributing donated appliances, furniture, food, cleaning supplies, toiletry and clothing.
According to Melton, the Dresden Church of Christ served as a hub for churches of Christ. It received truckloads of materials to be sent out from the Church of Christ disaster relief. Additionally, Weakley County Baptist Association and First Baptist Church were instrumental in getting a lot of donated goods out through their facilities, as well.
Melton noted the current spending total through WCLTRG is $212,853. She directed the audience’s attention to a PowerPoint pie chart indicating the amount of money spent in various categories as follows: construction = $71,456; furniture and appliances = $57,898; home repairs = $27,500; services = $18,603; supplies = $16,714; housing = $12,420; auto = $7,078; storage = $900; household = $424; and personal care = $374.
Melton stated the reason she got involved in the recovery effort is because she’s a Dresden resident, which is her hometown, where she grew up and currently lives with her family.
“My family and I were in the basement when the tornado hit,” Melton recalled. “We were very fortunate not to have any damage to our home. The next day, we were out delivering food and helping a family that we know move out of their home to safety. I wanted to be a part of this because I love Dresden and I love the people of Dresden.
“We don’t get paid to do this. This is time we spend on nights and weekends. All of the people on this board are some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. They have good hearts. They’re doing this for the right reason. I know there has been criticism of what we’ve done, and I know we were not perfect. But we’ve never experienced anything like this. None of us have. We were doing the best we could. We called in experts. We talked to people that know what they’re doing and we let them guide us. We let them tell us what is best practice, what is the best way to do this, and how should we proceed.
“A lot of the time, decisions had to be made and things had to be kept confidential for a period (of time) to protect survivors. That’s been frustrating to us and to the community. I want everybody to know that I truly believe we have done the best that we could do in a very difficult situation. My goal is for Weakley County Long-Term Recovery Group is to become a permanent fixture to help all of our communities in Weakley County during a disaster. Now that we’ve done it, we know what to do and we can spring into action to make it happen better next time.”
Robert Craig of United Methodist Committee On Relief, who serves as assessment recovery coordinator for the Tennessee – Western Kentucky United Methodist Church, stated UMCOR is the domestic disaster preparedness and recovery arm of the church.
“I’ve been involved in Disaster Response since 2006, when a tornado killed 16 people in my town and destroyed my home church,” Craig said. “I lost people that I loved dearly. Since that time, disaster relief has been a passion of mine.
“I’ve had the privilege to do it throughout the State of Tennessee, Kentucky and around the Southeastern U.S., when I have been called to go and assist those communities.”
Craig stated he has a lot of family here in Weakley County. When Dresden was impacted, I was here the next day to check on my sister and all those folks that night, and they were okay. There are people that I know and love that weren’t. That’s part of why I’m here.” He mentioned it is also because it’s his job.
“I’ve been blessed to get to know these folks over the past year. It’s been a while, and it’s going to be a while longer I’m afraid. But we’re here to help the community.”
Craig utilized a PowerPoint chart showing the process for receiving disaster assistance all the way from the start, when survivors indicate they believe they will have unmet needs when insurance and FEMA assistance run out – to having all rebuilding, repairs and other needs met with resources on hand from WCLTRG. This includes construction, donations, volunteers and outside resources.
“The Survivor has an advocate throughout the recovery process,” Craig said. “That’s what a disaster case manager is. The survivors do all that they can on their own to facilitate that process to get through it successfully to meet the recovery needs.
He stated UMCOR receives no dollars from other organizations. UMCOR has only disbursed donations received from their churches and individuals within those churches, church conferences, and United States disaster response grants.
Craig explained the American Red Cross is fully funding 26 projects affected by the storm, and most of those are right here in Weakley County. Local funding sources are partially funding 17 projects. Of the 130 cases, 79 cases are closed and 51 cases remain open.
According to Craig, the Tennessee-Western Conference of the Methodist Church has committed $164,269.41 to clients in case management to date; an estimated $216,000 for one year of employee labor; $80,289.02 was spent for construction management; and $30,069 in volunteer labor has been donated.
Craig concluded his remarks by saying, “Thank you for allowing me to serve here in Weakley County.”
Will Norrid, pastor of Lebanon Church of Christ in Dresden, who serves as spiritual/emotional needs chair on the WCLTRG board, spoke about the emotional and spiritual needs of the community. Norrid said he has been preaching in Weakley County for the past 18 years and in Dresden for the past five years.
He stated on the night of the storm, he made calls and connected with church members. “We were checking on people and working with people, our parents, our family members, and our church members,” Norrid said. “We have church members who lost their homes. It was just a tough situation as you all know.”
Norrid stated that all but two of the funders are faith-based, and includes all local denominations. He stated a former Dresden resident calling from Nashville said, ‘I have a semi-truck load of stuff and I need somewhere to put it.’” He suggested utilizing the basement in the Dresden Church of Christ building.
“We’re small community and we’re just not equipped to deal with something of this magnitude.”
Norrid expressed his appreciation to faith-based organizations and everyone that has been a part of the recovery effort. Additionally, he thanked local citizens for assisting local firefighters and emergency management personnel to account for everyone immediately after the storm, for serving meals, and for showing up with chainsaws to assist in the cleanup effort.
Carey counseling also helped to meet the emotional needs of those impacted by the storm. “I have tried in my volunteer capacity to connect people with the resources they need,” Norrid said. “It’s emotional to lose a home. It’s emotional to lose a job.” He added it will take a while for everyone to get over the panic and the fear caused by the tornado.
“We’re going to disagree about methods and approaches, but I do think each of you has the best interest of Dresden at heart. Dresden is the people. It’s not the court square. It’s not the physical damage. But it can, and I believe will, be restored and rebuilt.”
WCLTRG program co-coordinator Misti Pequignot, whose position is funded through a grant, said, “My role is to serve full-time for all the survivors. I’m available at any time, just call the recovery center (at 1-731-699-7913) and I’ll get with you as soon as I can.”
Pequignot stated disaster preparedness is something else she is working towards, so when the next disaster comes, the county will be ready.
“All of our board members and ex-officio members are dedicated to serving this community. All you have to do is reach out to us and if you have questions call it anytime.”
(See charts showing recovery efforts on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DresdenEnterprise/)