This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Cindy Shuford of Washington, Ill., was at church Sunday when word came that a tornado was fast approaching. Taking cover in one of the building’s windowless rooms, Shuford first thought of her 22-year-old daughter, working the deli counter at Kroger.
“I just kept thinking of her, and I wanted to see her face,” Shuford said, in a telephone interview.
Her second thought was for her nonprofit business but it wasn’t about what she might lose. It was about what her church-based organization had to offer as part of its mission: an emergency supply of clothes and personal items for just such an occasion.
Threads, Hope & Love has served more than 50 communities, providing clothes, underwear, shampoo and other personal items since 2009. But if her building were destroyed, there’d be nothing to give her own neighbors in need if the twister took their homes, or hers.
As the tornado tore a diagonal swath across Washington, killing one person, destroying 46 homes and damaging 150 others, it spared the Threads, Hope & Love building -- and Shuford’s daughter.
“When we got to Kroger, she was kind of crying but she was giving fried chicken and sandwiches to people who had just lost their apartment building,” Shuford said.
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Shuford’s own home was also untouched. But because people were being kept out of the areas of devastation, she wasn’t able to witness the damage to her community until she drove to the next community on Monday to get gas.
“I grabbed a newspaper so I could see what my town looked like,” Shuford said. “Looking at the pictures, I said, ‘That can’t be our town; it’s got to be somewhere else.’”
Shuford’s power was turned back on late Monday and another woman she works with was able to get inside the Threads, Hope & Love building. The organization’s emergency supplies are being distributed at the site and at two local churches.
Thanks to the nonprofit, the Red Cross and other contributors, the hundreds of newly homeless have plenty of clothes and other items for their immediate needs, Shuford said. What they could use are gift cards -- she named Menards, Target and Walmart -- for later.
“They could get a little bit of Christmas for their kids,” Shuford said. “Or if they need to go buy some two-by-fours to fix up their house and they don’t have their insurance money yet, they can take their Menards card and go a few blocks down the road.”
One thing Shuford knows for sure is that everyone in town will help each other. It’s the kind of community where it doesn’t take long to feel at home.
“My daughter’s boyfriend just drove here from New Mexico; and within an hour of the tornado, he was pulling a man out of a basement,” Shuford said.
What’s hard for Shuford is that even though her life’s work is helping people, she’s not used to those seeking aid being so close to home.
“All of a sudden for the biggest need to be right here in our neighborhood, I haven’t gotten a grip on that yet,” Shuford said.