They stood in the rain around the red donation box, eyes closed, hands clasped, praying for the people of Smithville, praying for direction as they attempt to help in whatever way they can. What started as a simple Facebook post has become a cohesive movement, and what started as an uneasy feeling has become a loud, clear calling to serve.
Local contractor Chan Davis said he was lying in his bed after Wednesday night”s storms, his heart troubled by a feeling he couldn”t name. He barely slept that night or the next. Finally, he asked God to use him, show him what he wanted him to do. The result was North Mississippi Disaster Relief.
At the moment, it consists of a dozen or so of his friends and their friends, and a large red container behind J. Broussard”s on Fourth Street South in downtown Columbus. In the few days it has been there, it”s already been filled, and today, they”re taking it to Smithville, where they will drop it off and return to Columbus to fill a new one.
Davis said current needs are not so much clothes and canned goods, as people often donate, but the things people never think about: Sturdy storage containers for people to gather possessions, yard rakes, to-go food containers, and roofing nails. But all donations are welcome.
Davis said the benefit of this being a localized effort is that — as is so often the case following natural disasters — residents and charities on the ground have been able to cut through bureaucratic red tape to get immediate help where it”s needed.
“We”re the red box without the red tape,” he joked Tuesday morning.
He said everyone in Lowndes and surrounding counties should do whatever they can to help.
“If you”re looking for an excuse not to help, you can create one,” he said. “But if you”re looking for a reason that you can”t help, there isn”t one.”
It”s a process that has come full circle, from Lowndes County to Monroe County and back to Lowndes County again. As he began working with Bill Steverson, an elder at Smithville Church of Christ, he learned that Steverson, now a resident of Smithville, had once lived in Columbus.
“If you can get it here, we can get it to the people,” Steverson said.
Davis” own father, Bilbo Davis, now lives in Columbus but grew up in Smithville and graduated from storm-wrecked Smithville High School.
Bilbo Davis said four of the 15 people who died in the Smithville tornado were his friends. He ate at their homes. Played ball with them in the fields. Spent many a happy hour after school, enjoying their company. He still has family members there, but though the storm came close — “a rock”s throw away” — they were unharmed.
Now that he”s in his 80s and lives more than 40 miles away, he doesn”t make it over there often. But he said in the past week, Smithville — and the friends he lost in last Wednesday”s devastating EF-5 tornado — have been strongly on his mind.
“I want to go up there, yet, I don”t want to go,” he said Tuesday morning. “I like to remember how things were instead of how they are now. It just saddens me to see all these people have to suffer and their families have to suffer all this death and destruction. All you can do is trust in the Lord and keep on.”
And so, today, his son, Chan Davis, will go. He will go for his father and for his family. He will go for himself and his need to do something — anything. He will go for the people of Smithville, one county away, but brothers and sisters just the same.
In the rain, in the wind, he will go, not because he has to, but because he must.
How You Can Help
· To donate items to North Mississippi Disaster Relief, bring them to the big red box on 4th Street South behind J. Broussard”s, or call Chan Davis at 251-3557. The group also has a Facebook page at “North Mississippi Tornado Relief.”
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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