Once a month, on a Wednesday morning at 11 am, the tornado sirens go off. It’s a test. Students crawl under their desks. Teachers remind them what to do if the sky turns dark. Adults go about their normal life, maybe pausing just briefly to imagine what they would do if a tornado were actually nearby. We never imagine that moment might come, but on Sunday night, October 20th, it did.
Dallas was struck by a serious of tornadoes. Neighborhood blocks were demolished. Church steeples fell. Power lines were ripped from the poles. Cars were flipped and roofs were torn from their foundation.
Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, the church I call home, was lucky enough to be a few blocks off of the destruction. We survived with barely a scratch, but our neighbors were not so lucky.
So, in the first 48 hours, here are a few things we have learned about responding to a natural disaster:
1- Gather your golf carts and wagons
One thing we learned very quickly, was that cars were not going to be able to pass through the affected streets. We needed smaller, easier to navigate vehicles, due to all the downed power lines and trees. As a result, taking supplies on foot with wagons, and driving golf carts or bikes, was the most helpful way to transport supplies!
2- Food Delivery
In the days following the tornado, our congregation hit the streets. We invited the community to drop off waters, non-perishable items, and individually wrapped sandwiches. From there, we loaded down golf carts full of supplies and took them into the neighborhoods with the greatest destruction. We passed out waters and meals to place officers, first responders, construction workers, and families. This process involved supply receivers, sandwich makers, golf cart drivers, and runners. It took a village, but was always worth it.
3- Coffee Goes a Long Way
The neighborhoods that were hit the worst, were without electricity, and many were unable to leave their homes. As a result, every morning, we loaded up a golf cart with coffee canisters, cream and sugar and passed out free cups of coffee. Already, people have begun to anticipate our Church golf cart making the rounds, and many have stopped us with tears to express their gratitude. A cup of coffee truly can go a long way.
4- Wear a Uniform
The tornadoes path was quickly barricaded with cop cars and police officers for people’s safety- there is glass everywhere, downed trees and power lines in the streets. Our group made sure to put sings on our golf carts that said “Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church.” The staff also went out in “PHPC Serves” shirts and name tags. Over time, the police offers grew to recognize and trust us, and we have been able to move through the barricades with more ease.
5- Make time for Worship
It can be easy to feel as if there is not time to pray or worship when disaster strikes, but often, that is exactly what we need. Disaster response work is exhausting- emotionally and physically. We were grateful to see a group of youth gather in our parking lot for an outdoor prayer service two nights after the storm. Together they sang, prayed and reminded one another that love is stronger than any storm.
We passed out all kinds of food and materials to our neighbors in need. However, thus far, these have been some of the most appreciated items. I’m sure in time, this list will evolve.
- Cardboard boxes and packing tape, for people to pack up items in their home
- Plastic bins for packing
- Garbage bags
- Cold water when working int he heat! (We took coolers with ice on our golf carts. The workers were so grateful)
- Fruit! (everyone was passing out non-perishables, but the families had lost all produce. Oranges, apples and bananas were very popular!)
If your community is unable to help provide these, create an Amazon wishlist and widen the scope. People from outside your immediate community are also looking for ways to help!
7- Advertise relief efforts on Nextdoor, community Facebook groups, etc.
People are hungry for ways to help in the face of tragedy. We have worked hard to communicate widely to different community Facebook groups for schools and churches in the area. It has been difficult to contact people with downed power lines and phone lines, so this platform has been invaluable in spreading the word for ways to help.
8- Check on your first responders
Firefighters and police officers work overtime in tragedy moments like these. If you can, figure out what their needs are and offer support when and where possible! For us, they requested fresh fruit and coffee.
Dallas lost four schools to Sunday night’s tornadoes. Therefore, we did an all call for school supplies too help restock those classrooms. It’s a small gesture, but can go a long way.
Here is what we invited people to bring in. You may find a similar outreach effort to be helpful.
Clorox wipes & other cleaning supplies
Ziplock bags - gallon and quart
Storage containers/milk crates/shoe boxes
Dry erase markers
Chalk (some have chalkboards)
Small games, cards, dice
PK-5 appropriate reading books
Paper - lined and printer paper
Mats/carpets and/or carpet tiles
Post-It Easel Pads (the large, stick-on-the-wall kind)
Crayons (for lower grades)
10- Tell the story.
Natural disasters like a tornado or a hurricane are devastating to cities and the economy. However, these moments are also community building moments. We have been absolutely amazed at the generosity and love that has poured out for this city. Schools have opened their doors to other schools- hosting students and classes. Churches have combined spaces, supplies have poured in from people who want to help. Our youth have spent every day this week walking the streets handing out supplies, and the number of people who have reached out from outside Dallas to share that they are praying for our city is immeasurable.
So tell that story.
Remind people that love is stronger than any storm.
Life is not about our possessions- however valuable they may be.
Life is about who we loved and how we loved, so tell that story.
It’s holy, and it’s the truth that will get us through.
A special thank you to the countless people in our community that have given so much for so little. You inspire us every day.