BUTLER — A donation of $23,750 from the National Ruritan organization’s Operation We Care to help the April tornado victims in Johnson County served as a notice that there are still people in damaged homes facing the onset of winter in the mountainous area.
The donation was made Wednesday at the Butler Ruritan Club. The money was presented to the Johnson County Disaster Recovery Group, a volunteer organization that is working to help the victims.
Bill Benedict, president of the Butler club, said the money will be used to purchase building material. He said the club applied for a grant earlier, but with the outbreak of disasters in the nation this spring, he said the We Care fund was depleted. In response, the Butler Ruritan Club made a $1,000 donation to Operation We Care. That was matched with a $1,000 donation from the state Ruritan organization.
That was the last the club heard until it found out the national organization had approved the grant. In addition to working for the grant, Benedict said club members have “volunteered to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” helping their neighbors rebuild.
“Winter is coming on and we want to rebuild houses and fix things up,” Benedict said.
Jim Norman, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and chairman of the Johnson County Disaster Recovery Group, and group member Ellen Watkins said there are still many families who need help.
Watkins, who also is the American Red Cross coordinator for Johnson County, said it is difficult to get some of the victims to accept help, even though they are suffering.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency was active in the area, Watkins said many of the victims did not qualify for federal aid. She said these victims had insurance on their homes, but they were underinsured.
In many instances, the insurance money bought building materials. Many volunteer groups provided assistance with cleaning up and construction. Even so, there are many who are still trying to get back on their feet.
“A lot of the people we try to help will refuse, saying there are worse off people down the road. They say they don’t want to take anything from someone who is worse off.”
Watkins’ statement was verified during a visit with Dustie Wilcox, who has been living in a small camper with her husband and 4-year-old son until they can decide whether to rebuild or move away.
Wilcox said she feels very frustrated at times as her family struggles to recover after losing their home. Her frustrations have deepened as she began to experience frozen water in the camper as the temperatures began to fall with the approach of winter.
Despite the frustration, Wilcox said her husband was reluctant to ask for help. “He doesn’t want to take anything away from someone who needs it more than us,” Wilcox said. “We feel very fortunate to have what we have.”
One thing Wilcox said she definitely does want if her family decides to rebuild is a basement for safe shelter if another storm comes. “We get pretty shaky when we hear the wind blowing,” Wilcox said.
Even though she was reluctant to ask for help, Wilcox was very appreciative of the help Watkins has given her.
“She has been a Godsend,” Wilcox said as she hugged Watkins.
One family did not just lose one home, they lost three and four vehicles.
That was the ordeal Anita Hopkins and her family faced. Their mobile homes were destroyed and her son’s was blown down a hill and into a stream. Fortunately he and his wife had taken their daughter to Elizabethton on a medical emergency before the storm hit and no one was in the mobile home when it blew away.
“We had insurance on one and FEMA helped a little,” Hopkins said. The family has been working since the time of the tornado and finally, in a few more weeks, Hopkins will be able to move back to her home.
“We had so many people come by and help us,” Hopkins said. One friend has allowed the family to use a newly built home in Little Dry Run until their home is ready.
Another family planning to be back into their home by Christmas is the Dollar family.
The family is more fortunate than most because David Dollar is an experienced carpenter. He had originally built the family dream home. Fortunately, it included a sturdy basement. Dollar said he did not even realize his home was being destroyed because the basement was so soundproof.
It was a shock when he came upstairs to find part of the roof had blown away and rain was pouring in. Windows, doors and fallen sheet rock blocked his progress through the house.
Dollar has been using his carpentry skills since then to rebuild the dream home and make it better than it was before the storm.
Watkins said there are many families who are less fortunate. She estimates there are 20 to 25 families in the county who are still dealing with major damage to their homes and another 10 with minor damage, such as roof damage. Some roofs still have tarps covering the damage.
Donations to help rebuild the victims’ homes can be made through the United Way of Johnson County.
For more information, call the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency at 727-2507.