(NOTE: A version of this story first appeared online at www.voice-tribune.com shortly after several tornadoes struck Kentucky and Southern Indiana on March 2.)
Hours after a massive tornado leveled Henryville, Ind., Rich Cheek was smiling. You could tell from his voice.
On a cell phone he kept charging in his car because there was no longer a steady source of electricity, the Henryville Community Church senior pastor smiled and then paused, trying to stave off the swell of emotions.
Cheek quickly described the shock of enduring the catastrophic storm that unleashed a deadly tornado on the second day of March. He tried to find words to explain how life had changed in an instant in the small town. He stumbled recalling how he hadn’t been able to locate church members who were teachers and students at the town’s now-leveled high school.
Everyone got out alive at the school, said Cheek, the immediate concern now how to continue the church’s mission of helping those in need. The congregation feeds nearly 2,000 people every month. After the storm, they had next to nothing to give and the addition of widespread damage with which to contend.
Cheek listened intently as he was told Louisville-based Wick’s Pizza and The McMahan Group had $10,000 worth of food to donate. “Yesterday was distribution day (at the church) and we have nothing left,” he said. And then, taking in the news of the impending delivery, he smiled.
“A lot of the people who come to us (to be fed) don’t have stoves to begin with and now they don’t have houses,” he said.
Henryville Community Church relies on Louisville’s Dare to Care for assistance feeding those who are hungry. The charity has made a long-term commitment, but immediate aid from others will fill – has to fill – what is a serious, desperate need. “We have generators and will fire up the grill and feed as many as we can,” Cheek said early, early Saturday morning more hopeful than optimistic.
Not quite a week later, he’s overwhelmed by how the support from strangers seems to have no end. Wick’s continues to deliver pizzas to Henryville and surrounding areas. Earlier this week, staff from Famous Dave’s served up lunch to hundreds. So did Jeffersontown Fire Capt. Matt Keith and the crew he brought to grill hot dogs and hamburgers for what has turned into a daily crowd of 1,200 hungry people.
“The volunteers just keep coming,” said Cheek, not that the Jeffersontown, Ky., resident and his Indiana flock aren’t familiar with serving others, too.
In the past year, members of Henryville Community Church have fed thousands of their fellow community members. They drove to Alabama to help those affected by the 2011 Super Outbreak of tornadoes. And, more recently, they crossed The Ohio and traveled into Eastern Kentucky to minister to and feed nearly 22,000 people.
Those words, uttered just before midnight last Friday, prompted The Voice-Tribune to organize a donation drive for the folks in Henryville.
It started as a few posts on Facebook and Twitter announcing we would collect supplies for three hours the day after the storm at our office on Main Street. Then, a handful of people volunteered to drive and help sort and pack. Some offered up the use of their vehicles. Others dropped off refreshments for the hard-working volunteers who had answered when we’d asked for help.
Early Saturday morning, our phones began to ring and our email inboxes started to fill up with questions from people who wanted to know more about what had become a community endeavor.
And then they came.
Residents from all over Jefferson and Oldham counties and Southern Indiana arrived at The Voice-Tribune with supplies Cheek continues to say have been “life-changing.”
The donations of food, water, clothing and necessities were so numerous they filled four box trucks, three SUVs, one pick-up truck and an 18-wheel semi truck.
Henryville Community Church Senior Pastor Rich Cheek was moved to tears by the outpouring of kindness. He often is as the generosity seems to magnify and multiply daily. But he smiles far more.
“Please tell everyone thank you. You were the first (group) to offer help, and you haven’t left,” Cheek said. “Thank you. Thank you.”
The Louisville Crashers will host – and headline – the Southern Indiana Tornado Relief Concert 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday, March 11, at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg, Ind.
More than 30 bands will perform on three stages. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for ages 12 and under.
Proceeds will benefit the Clark County Red Cross, which is aiding storm victims throughout the community.
Helping Henryville and Beyond
Wick’s Pizza Parlor & Pub in New Albany, Ind. will host “Helping Henryville & Beyond: A Benefit for All of Southern Indiana” on Friday, March 9. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Admission is $20, which will go to local families affected by the recent disaster.
Bands slated to perform include Jefferson Tarc Bus, Eight Inch Elvis, 2nd Day Romans, Lindsay Lane & Axis, Black Magic Marker, Midnight Radio, Lucky 13, C.M.N., Tom & Phil, Indiana Joe & The Congas of Arrow and The Moon Dogs.
There are lots of ways you can help Henryville and the Kentucky and Indiana cities affected by the recent catastrophe: Donate to the Red Cross at www.redcross.org. Drop off non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies, clothing, blankets and basic essentials at area ValuMarket stores and other locations. Find out how you can donate your time to Henryville Community Church with The Voice-Tribune and our friends by going to www.voice-tribune.com, www.facebook.com/TheVoiceTribune or following @TheVoiceTribune on Twitter. We post continuous updates about those needing relief.
On March 2, deadly tornadoes ripped through parts of Kentucky and Indiana. Hours later, dozens of people from the Kentuckiana area heeded a cry for help from Henryville, Ind. and gathered up much needed supplies, dropping them at The Voice-Tribune’s Main Street office.
Together, they filled an 18-wheel semi truck, four box trucks, three SUV’s and one pick-up truck with donations that were immediately taken to the Southern Indiana town with the hopes of helping the residents start to rebuild their lives. According to Henryville Community Church Senior Pastor Rich Cheek, that’s exactly what happened – is happening – thanks to those who continue to ask, “How can I help?” and then do.
Photos By TONY BENNETT | Contributing Photographer
and CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune