Pallets of bottled water, boxes of canned soup, packages of diapers and disaster relief supplies of all kinds filled nearly all available space inside the warehouse at Grace Assembly of God.
The items had come in Sunday night, ready to be distributed to victims of the tornado that ripped through Whiteland.
More than 50 volunteers had come to the church Monday morning, ready to package food, water and more as the community picked itself up from the disaster.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to serve our own community. This is all about helping our neighbors. We want these people to know they’re not forgotten. They’re going to be OK, and we’re going to help them get them restored,” said Jeff Cardwell, a member of the church helping lead the relief efforts. “What we’re doing now is offering hope and letting them know this community loves them.”
Grace Assembly of God has emerged as a center of relief efforts for victims of the Whiteland tornado. The church will be open all week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to offer supplies to people in need, from water to food to toilet paper, diapers and baby wipes.
Organizers are imploring people to offer their assistance, through volunteering, donating items or giving money. With some of the worst damage from the storm just a few miles from the church.
“This isn’t just what we want to do, it’s what we’re supposed to do to serve the community,” said Wayne Murray, lead pastor at Grace Assembly of God. “It’s something we do all the time, and this is a chance to do it even more for our own neighbors.”
Relief efforts started at Grace Assembly of God just hours after the EF-3 tornado battered Whiteland with winds up to 140 miles per hour.
Church leaders worked with Whiteland town officials and Johnson County leaders, as well as police and fire departments, to determine their role in the cleanup. They offered to handle volunteer and relief efforts while town officials deal with more immediate concerns.
At the forefront was Cardwell, a member of the church and founder the People Helping People Network. The nonprofit organization spearheads housing, hunger, health, and education initiatives throughout the world, including organizing missions following natural disasters.
Cardwell has years of experience helping communities rebound following disasters. He was eager to put those skills to use in his own town.
“We’ve been doing natural disasters for over 20 years — it’s what we do. Ironically, we’re doing it in my own backyard,” he said.
They received a boost from Convoy of Hope, a nonprofit humanitarian organization providing food, hygiene items and supplies following disasters.
Leaders from the group called Grace Assembly of God on Saturday morning offering help. The church had supported Convoy of Hope for years, Murray said.
“We’ve always given to them, but this is the first time we’ve been on the receiving end,” he said.
A Convoy of Hope representative was on-site Saturday, and together with church officials, they toured the area to investigate damage done by the tornado. By Sunday evening, a fully loaded semi-trailer arrived to unload water, food, shovels, tarps, toilet paper, diapers, baby wipes and formula.
Those supplies are being used to fill relief boxes victims of the tornado can pick up, Cardwell said.
In addition to distributing items this week, Grace Assembly of God is organizing teams to assist with debris cleanup in neighborhoods impacted by the tornado. The efforts will focus on areas deemed safe and cleared for volunteers. People who would like to participate in this effort should bring gloves, safety glasses and hard-soled shoes. Trained and experienced leaders will guide the teams.
“Right now, what these people need is community. They need to know the community cares,” Cardwell said.
A link has been set up on Grace Assembly of God’s website, labeled “Tornado Relief.” People can either donate money or needed items through the link. The most urgent needs are food, rakes and shovels, household items and cleaners, diapers and baby wipes, baby formula and pet food.
At this time, clothing donations are not needed.
“This is going to be a long-term recovery. What we don’t want is people to forget it, after things die down and all of the enthusiasm dies down,” Cardwell said. “We’re trying to set this up now so the long-term recovery is a lot better.”
Grace Assembly of God is not alone in efforts to help victims of the tornado.
The Salvation Army Indiana Division’s tornado relief response have continued after at least 17 confirmed tornadoes swept through that state, including in Johnson County. Emergency Disaster Services teams deployed to the county have been focused on immediate needs, such as food, hydration, and emotional and spiritual care.
Officials are also coordinating with local government and other organizations in preparation for long-term casework to help families get back on their feet, according to a press release sent Monday.
Leaders with the Salvation Army’s Johnson County Red Shield Center spent the weekend traveling throughout the county in a mobile kitchen to reach storm victims, utility workers and emergency crews. They helped 700 individuals, providing 400 meals, 605 drinks and 1,200 snacks.
The Salvation Army is partnering with The United Way of Johnson County, Indiana Red Cross and area churches to coordinate services to the community. They are also set up at the Greenwood Middle School shelter and were out again Monday in a Salvation Army vehicle delivering assistance to affected neighborhoods.
Among the businesses helping the effort were Pizza Hut in Franklin, Long’s Donuts, and Rise’n Roll Bakery, which donated food to the effort.
Donations of shelf-stable food, household items, and toiletries can be dropped off at the Red Shield Center, 325 Market Plaza in Greenwood, from 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. this week.
Clothing items are not needed, but cash donations are much appreciated as they can be used to help families with larger needs. People can also donate online by visiting HelpSalvationArmy.org or texting the word HOOSIER to 24-365.
AT A GLANCE
Tornado relief site
What: A place to get essential supplies such as water, food, shovels, tarps, toilet paper, diapers, baby wipes, and formula for people impacted by the tornado in Whiteland.
Where: Grace Assembly of God, 822 S. U.S. 31, Whiteland
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday
How to help: Volunteers are needed to help with both distribution and cleanup efforts in the community. Contact Braden Murray, outreach director at the church, at [email protected] for more information.
To donate items or money to the relief effort, go to graceassembly.org, where a link has been set up. Needed items include food, rakes and shovels, household items and cleaners, diapers and baby wipes, baby formula and pet food. Clothing donations are currently not needed.