Beaufort News

Lowcountry residents rally to help nation's tornado victims

When Hilton Head Island resident Boyd Downey's childhood home in Joplin, Mo., was demolished by a devastating tornado in late May, he decided to act.

He was among those who gathered Saturday at the Bluffton High School parking lot as part of Live Oak Christian Church's drive to send a truck loaded with bedding and other basics to his hometown.

"If I can't be there, I want to be here helping out any way I can," Downey said.

The church's drive is the latest in a series of Lowcountry efforts to assist victims of the deadly tornadoes that have swept across a number of Southern states.

Volunteers say local residents have contributed more than organizers hoped, doing everything from fostering dogs left homeless by the storms to driving trucks full of supplies to the hardest-hit areas.

The Lowcountry Chapter of the American Red Cross has sent out 22 volunteers, including five from the Bluffton-based Palmetto Service Center, according to disaster services coordinator Carl Statham. At its regularly scheduled training sessions, Statham said new recruits have applied specifically to work in tornado-devastated areas.

Bart Bubnell of St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church on Hilton Head Island recently returned from delivering supplies to Tuscaloosa, Ala. The church had expected to receive only enough goods to fill one truck. It filled two.

"It was a humbling experience to see those people waiting in line, and all they had were the clothes on their backs," Bubnell said of the Alabama victims.

Eric Campbell, Live Oak's family discipleship director, said Saturday the flood of local support may stem in part from the makeup of the Lowcountry itself: many area residents are from somewhere else.

"So when tragedy hits, it's going to affect somebody locally," Campbell said.

Pastor Mark Beaumont said his church decided to send a team to Joplin because former colleagues ministering there were able to specify what was needed.

With hurricane season under way, donors also likely realized that should a storm hit here, "we'd rely on other people to help us," Beaumont said.