Debris littered the landscape as far as the eye could see. Mayfield, Kentucky is a disaster zone.
This past week, I joined Masbia Soup Kitchen and its relief team on a mission to Mayfield, one of the most hard-hit cities from the recent deadly tornado. There, we met the Seavers family – long-time local and resilient residents.
The Seavers transformed their family restaurant into an around-the-clock soup kitchen, cooking hot meals for literally tens of thousands of locals and emergency workers. The restaurant, Southern Reds BBQ, is based some 17 miles from Mayfield and has been running this operation with their staff, local volunteers and donated supplies from across the country. To make sure everyone had what was needed, Masbia arranged for several truckloads of supplies from neighboring Jewish businesses, as well as buying food and other products that they had exhausted.
Buck Shelton, a local realtor who is running for local public office, has taken on the role of coordinating the effort on behalf of the restaurant. He served as our guide. Buck shared the harrowing story of when the tornado hit. He explained that the local news had done a decent job of warning of the danger ahead. But many remained in their homes. After all, ‘twisters’ aren’t that uncommon to the residents of Mayfield. But this tornado was of another magnitude. It took less than twenty minutes for the tornado to pass through Mayfield, and in its wake, it destroyed countless homes, buildings and cars in its path. Most tragically, as of today, 76 people have died.
As soon as the tornado passed the area where Buck sheltered, he instinctively sprang to action and grabbed a chainsaw and hopped in his truck with a neighbor. They gaped in horror at the scenes they witnessed in their own home town. After a moment to collect their shock and dismay, they jumped out of the truck and began to clear debris and trees from the roads. Once cleared, they searched house-to-house to help people. Sadly, they discovered many dead bodies, some of whom were so badly injured that Buck could not even identify them.
Then the time came for Buck to show us the community. We loaded up a pickup truck with boxes of hot meals and headed out to Mayfield. As Buck pointed to each of the various points of destruction, we could see the devastation. I felt like the wind was knocked out of me. Buck, along with others we encountered, displayed an enormous amount of devoutness to their faith, which we heard in a speech and saw in their actions. At one stop, where a makeshift memorial was set up, a framed copy of the Ten Commandments hung amid the piles of flowers and other remembrances. Buck then showed us a house that belonged to his friend’s grandmother. The roof was completely ripped off. We then headed to the center of town. There, we saw the courthouse, banks, churches and local businesses brought down to nothing more than rubble. Outside the courthouse were pictures of those who lost their lives, together with candles and flowers as a memorial. Buck’s realty office down the block survived the tornado but is closed indefinitely and requires a significant cleanup effort. He expects to be volunteering for at least another month before going back to work.
It will take many months, if not years, to get Mayfield to where it was before this tornado touched down.
I’m an outsider. This is a city I’ve never visited and people I’ve never met. Even so, the feelings of pain and loss were not lost on me. This was complete devastation on a level I had yet to witness with my own two eyes. We did not travel to Mayfield to make a splash, nor to merely show up in a time of crisis. We care about this community. We care about all of our neighboring cities and their families. We want to see Mayfield get back on their feet.
Buck was simply blown away by the support of Masbia and the Jewish community in general. He and the Seaver family broke down in tears several times throughout our time together as they tried to articulate their appreciation.
Their tears spoke far louder than their words.
I told him that this wasn’t our last visit, that we’d come back in the near future. When all the dust settles and the relief organizations head home, we’d return with volunteers for a relief mission from the Jewish community, to support and build. In fact, Boca Raton Synagogue has already reached out to take a group of volunteers to Mayfield in January.
After all, if we as a Jewish community are true to our Torah values, how could we not help others in a time of need?
Rabbi Simon Taylor is the National Director of the Orthodox Union’s Community Projects & Partnerships. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.