Answering the Call in the Face of Disaster

On March 3rd of this year, a devastating tornado ripped through Lee County, Alabama, leaving 23 dead, dozens injured and thousands of lives changed forever, especially in the towns of Beauregard and Smiths Station. The raging, catastrophic storm system was unprecedented for those usually-quiet communities.

“This is the first disaster of this kind and magnitude we’ve experienced,” said Becky Benton, President of United Way of Lee County.

United Way of Central Alabama’s Drew Langloh presents United Way of Lee County’s Becky Benton a check for Lee County Tornado Recovery efforts

Immediately after learning the extent of the damage, United Way of Central of Alabama (UWCA) reached out to Benton to determine what was needed, and how we could help. She had a clear answer: set up a secure online fundraising site.

“We are a very small United Way,” said Benton, who is one of a three-person staff. “Just like every other resource in Lee County, we were stretched to the max. Then came the cavalry.”

UWCA launched the fundraising site the next day, and directed potential donors to it via social and traditional media. During the course of the next few weeks, $194,143 in support of long-term tornado disaster relief was raised on the online site. More than 1,000 donors from 43 states and Puerto Rico contributed. And corporations, such as Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, the Ann & Bill Wallace Foundation and the Saunders Yachtworks Foundation Fund, stepped up with major gifts.

The funds will be used to mobilize long-term recovery efforts. UWCA will be able to share its own experience from similar situations, as our own community was directly affected by a devastating tornado system in 2011.

On April 22nd, UWCA President & CEO Drew Langloh traveled to Lee County to present a check for $194,143 to United Way of Lee County, although more donations, including a gift of more than $9,900 from the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, followed the ceremony and pushed the total raised through UWCA’s efforts  to more than $204,000.

“Disasters, as horrible as they are, bring out the best in people,” said Langloh. “When people see suffering on their television at night, they want to help. They want to respond. By creating this link, it gave folks the ability to do just that.”

Lee County still has a long road to recovery, but, thanks to help from their neighbors at United Way of Central Alabama and many others across the country, they won’t have to travel that road alone.