When deadly tornadoes ripped through Western Kentucky in early December, they claimed the lives of 77 people and left survivors grieving over the loss of their neighbors and homes.
After the destruction and trauma, Christmas was probably the last thing on survivors’ minds as they started to think about rebuilding. But Christmas was on the mind of Donnie Parsons.
Parsons, a member of Holly Grove Lutheran Church in Lexington, North Carolina, plays Santa Claus each year when Davidson Auction House gives away donated toys to children in the Lexington area.
“This year he had half of a truckload of toys leftover, and I asked what he was going to do with them,” Parsons said. “He said probably just put them in a trailer for next year, so I asked what he would think about having them delivered to Kentucky.”
As word spread that Parsons was planning to make this delivery happen, people began reaching out to help. He collected over $1,000 in donations that he used to purchase household items, toiletries, and water to give to survivors along with the toys.
The next step was to enlist the help of his teammates at Swing Transport, Inc. in Salisbury, North Carolina. The company has a disaster relief program and a truck that is dedicated to making deliveries just like this one. Swing Transport Safety Director Wayne Whitley agreed to drive the truck to get the donations there in time for Christmas.
“Any time a situation comes up, Swing Transport is always willing to step up and help when they can,” Whitley said. “If someone calls us, we will park our disaster relief truck in a location, they load whatever they want to on it, and we take it to where it’s needed at no cost. Swing Transport is family-owned and operated, and they always step up to the plate when it comes to helping others.”
With the toys and transportation secured, Parsons reached out to his Holly Grove Lutheran Pastor Anna Carter to see if she had any connections to get the toys to Mayfield, Kentucky, which suffered devastating damage in the storms.
Carter immediately contacted Lutheran Services Carolinas (LSC) President and CEO Ted Goins. Goins was excited about the opportunity for the LSC disaster services team to get involved. LSC has a partnership with Spokes of Hope, which was already in Kentucky and secured a warehouse to receive the donations.
“We now know what Santa must feel like,” LSC Disaster Services Team Director Paul Dunn said. “We called our partners that were boots-on-the- ground and everything was coordinated and set within 30 minutes of Ted’s call. It was truly a Christmas miracle and blessing.”
Whitley, along with a Swing Transport maintenance supervisor, drove the truck full of donations to Mayfield, Kentucky on the Tuesday before Christmas.
And although Whitley and Parsons were at home with their own families on Christmas Day, they said seeing the photos of the children’s receiving those gifts made it all worth it.
“They put Santa Claus on the back of the trailer and gave the toys out to the kids. It about broke my heart because these kids had nothing,” Parsons said. “We were proud to be a part of it.”
It took a village, but it was all worth it to see the smiles on the children’s faces.
“Collaboration, led by Donnie, truly saved Christmas for those children and families that lost everything,” Dunn said. “God is great.”
In response to the tornadoes in Kentucky, the LSC Disaster Team also:
• Teamed with Spokes of Hope in South Carolina to secure and coordinate five Kentucky warehouses to serve all disaster locations with multipurpose emergency and long-term recovery donation receiving, donation distribution, and feeding centers.
• Secured two large mobile restroom trailers in California and coordinated the delivery to Kentucky to setup and operate. These were used for first responders and survivors.
• Coordinated up to 16 truckloads of donated 30-gallon plastic bins with lids that were used for survivor retrieved belongings, food and supply distributions, and other purposes.
• Assisted Spokes of Hope in South Carolina with 3,000 emergency supply bins to ship to survivors.
• Teamed with NC Lutheran Men in Mission, the North Carolina Synod, and Spokes of Hope in South Carolina to have a trained volunteer force travel to Fayetteville, North Carolina to pick up and deliver the NC Lutheran Men in Mission’s disaster response unit and deliver it to the disaster site.
• Secured and coordinated the delivery of an 18-wheeler truck load of donated 8 oz medical antibacterial hand soap.