Relief Efforts: Help Around The Corner

Becky Fowler (left) and Kelley Wicker are surrounded by baskets of food items and other goods at Fowler’s TV on Wednesday. Fowler’s TV sent donated goods to tornado victims in Celina.
Staff Writer & Managing Editor

When tragedy strikes, help and support is always around the corner.

Days after an EF-3 tornado ripped a small section of Celina to shreds, local businesses and individuals — from St. Marys Rotary Club and Fowler’s TV to Agape Ministries Inc. and St. Marys Chrysler — led relief efforts for those affected.

Fowler’s TV got the ball rolling Tuesday morning when it announced on its Facebook page that the company was collecting anything to fill its vehicles to send to Celina. 

Becky Fowler said she was talking to her son Tuesday morning and he gave her the idea of collecting donations.

“I said, ‘I want to do something,’” she said as she fought back tears. “I thought about picking a family and he said, ‘why don’t you accept donations?’ Well, that’s a good idea.”

That’s when an overwhelming avalanche of donations poured into the store.

Fowler said Effie’s Boutique and Bud’s Chevrolet gave monetary donations, while Joint Township District Memorial Hospital, Dogs-R-Us, MTO, The Little White House, Agape and The Evening Leader all donated in some way. Effie’s also donated baskets, boxes and gloves.

“We have had so many businesses donate, but the amount of people we have had in here has been remarkable,” Fowler said. “We have seen a lot of receipts in the bags and the average person probably went out and spent $100 just to help people out.”

After collecting all that people donated, Fowler’s TV went to Celina at 6 p.m. Wednesday to donate the goods at the First Church of God.

“We may have something different because I do feel like we have a nice variety of things that some people may not think about,” Fowler said. “Hopefully, if there is one thing that somebody needs, that’s great, but if they need 25 things, we’ve got it for them.”

Across the street, Agape  donated hygiene items such as toothpaste and bars of soap to the TV store. Agape was also on standby with Call Ministries and St. John Lutheran Church in case those entities needed supplies. 

“We got it, they’ll get it,” said Agape’s Program Manager Donna Kuffner. 

Fowler’s idea, however, has since morphed into something much bigger.

St. Marys Chrysler is doing the same thing as the dealership posted its desire to help those in Celina on its Facebook page Tuesday.

“We wanted to help,” said Amanda Moening, photography manager at St. Marys Chrysler who is leading the donation. “We saw Fowler’s TV’s post and we wanted to do the same and challenge other businesses to do the same.”

Moening said a lot of people have reached out to St. Marys Chrysler, asking them if they can donate items to either the dealership or if they could pick it up. Moening and used car Manager Zach Nuttle both went to Kroger the day before to buy water, juice, snacks and other food goods.

“Its extremely important for local businesses to help communities in times like these,” Moening said. “Even if its not our immediate community, we’re still looking at people who have lost everything. I think it sends a message of solidarity. We have people from all different backgrounds coming together to work toward a common goal and it means the world to us here at St. Marys Chrysler that we are in a position where we can lend a hand to those in need.”

Members of Wayne Street United Methodist Church spent the day gathering and organizing donations of food and household items that were donated to St. John Lutheran Church in Celina. The donation was more than was expected by Mission Team Leader Toby Hertenstein and by members of St. John with one member saying it gave her goosebumps to see the outpouring of support.

“People have contacted us on Facebook, asking what they can donate and then the donations just started showing up at the church and more people than I thought were coming, jumped in and came along to help,” Hertenstein said. “I think small-town communities pull together in times like this and I think that’s an important thing that shows why small towns are so special.”

After dropping off donations, the volunteers drove to nearby Wheatland Acres subdivision — one of the hardest-hit areas — to help Hertenstein’s brother-in-law clean up after the neighborhood was destroyed.

Although the house was ruled a total loss by the insurance company, the family was safe and were able to save some of their possessions. About 15 volunteers made the trip from Wayne Street to Celina to lend a helping hand.

“I think people understand how crazy this weather has been and I think that’s why they want to help because, as morbid as it sounds, we don’t know who is going to be next,” Wayne Street Pastor Tim Benjamin said. “One of the things that amazes me is, whenever opportunities like this come along, people get the chance to show what they’re made of. People get a chance to show that we all have a touch of greatness inside of us. 

“I may not be able to stop a tornado but I can cook some hot dogs and carry heavy stuff out to the curb to be thrown away. Everybody does their part and that’s how we come back from these things.”

Even large, outside corporations are helping.

Kroger brought up a semitrailer from Dayton — ground zero from another tornado that touched down — to St. Marys full of water for people in Celina. Tara Durland, St. Marys Kroger assistant store manager, said a woman took 17 packs of water with her back to Celina.

“We’ve got a purpose statement at Kroger which is ‘feeding the human spirit’ and I think we try to uplift everybody in everything we do,” she said. “So I think this is something small — it’s water — it’s not like we are rebuilding a house or anything, but it is something little and it is something we can do to help.”

She said the first thing out of her and her store manager’s mouth was, “what can they do to help?” After asking corporate, Kroger delivered, faster than expected. 

“They did a really good job for us,” she said. “It was pretty effortless. We asked and we received.”

Durland said a co-worker lives in Celina and was not hit by the tornado, but lived just a few blocks away. So getting feedback from her as to what people in Celina needed helped when reaching out to corporate. Kroger donated 19 skids worth of bottled water. Durland said there were 60 cases of 32 bottles of water and 75, 24 packs of bottled water.

Verizon Wireless is also helping from a local standpoint. 

The cellular giant sent messages to its customers that it is providing unlimited domestic talk, text and data through June 5 to its active customers in zip codes affected by the severe weather in Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio and Oklahoma — including all zip codes in Mercer and Auglaize counties.

During their weekly meeting, St. Marys Rotary raised $466 in less than an hour to donate to the Celina Rotary Club. President Zach Ferrall said he hoped that by the St. Marys club donating, it will encourage other clubs in the district to also donate.

Once tragedy struck the area on a national holiday Monday night, one community came together to help another — despite any differences or sports rivalries — unequivocally, without question or doubt.

“I think it is great just to see the response that we’ve had, it’s wonderful,” Fowler said. “There are a lot of good people out there and this is proof of that.”