What took mere minutes to crush buildings and shatter lives has taken many months to mend.
Nashville marks one year since a series of late-night and early morning tornadoes swept through Tennessee, leaving behind a path of death and destruction. Many survivors face a continued long road to recovery.
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT) has released a one-year report to the community that summarizes and details the progress of its Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund, activated by CFMT just hours after the tornadoes touched down in the late-night and early morning hours of March 2 and 3.
Twenty-five people died and more than 300 people were injured in the series of tornadoes that touched down from West Tennessee through northern Davidson County, North Nashville, East Nashville, Mt. Juliet and Lebanon in Wilson County and to Cookeville and Putnam County.
To add disaster on disaster, the ongoing worldwide COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic set in just days later, resulting in the loss of more than 500,000 lives to date just in the United States, amid continuing economic turmoil and unemployment figures not seen since the Great Depression.
Despite everything, Middle Tennessee and beyond has remained generous with their charitable contributions. Volunteers continue to show up daily and put in hours after hours of their time and effort to benefit nonprofits, churches and schools.
CFMT has raised more than $12.5 million in the Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund from more than 22,000 donors representing all 50 states and 35 foreign countries, from Australia to the United Arab Emirates.
Thus far, the Fund has distributed $6,354,408 in the form of 162 grants made to 108 Davidson, Wilson, and Putnam County organizations. Another $1,353,259 has been pre-approved for repair and rebuild efforts in Davidson County.
The recovery would not be possible without the direct service of 108 nonprofit organizations and churches that have received funding.
Brandon Shaw, grant manager, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, reports that the agency’s collective tornado and COVID-19 relief efforts has resulted in 39% more food being distributed between March 1–December 31, 2020 when compared with the same period in 2019. Cumulatively, Second Harvest provided 35.8 million meals in the 10 months following the tornadoes.
“Since March, our program staff, volunteers, drivers, material handlers, fundraisers, and community partners have been working tirelessly to care for our community,” Shaw said. “The response has been overwhelming already, as people have given of themselves to help. But there is much more to do, especially now that a global pandemic has been brought to our doorstep.”
While much work remains, progress has been significant. One example is the recently formed North Nashville Tornado Relief Coalition, which includes Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership (JUMP), Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship (IMF), Urban League, NAACP, Lee Chapel AME and New Covenant Christian Church.
“The group has pooled $60,000 and as of December 2020 has disbursed more than $46,000 in community assistance,” said IMF President Chris Jackson, senior pastor of the Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church at 1400 Jefferson St.
The assistance has come in the form of shingle replacement, tree removal, general repairs and reconstruction support, Jackson said. The group is also partnering with the Fifteenth Avenue Community Development Corporation and the Teachers Credit Union.
Additionally, a total of 431 tornado survivors have been served through the Tornado Recovery Connection helpline, operated by the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
As to what work remains: “The biggest struggle has been, and continues to be, helping those in need of affordable housing,” said Eileen Lowery, Director of UMCOR’s Tornado Recovery Connection. “There are survivors who were living with friends and family members prior to the tornado. Those friends and family members then moved away from the area after the tornado, which then created situations of survivors going from being unhoused to homeless. Others lost their affordable housing to not being able to find rental options within their financial means. Others relied on having housing near a bus route to be able to get to work, to only now not be able to find housing options near a bus route.”
Eddie Latimer, CEO of Affordable Housing Resources, said: “The biggest issue to me was COVID falling on top of our strong tornado response. We were off to a good start when all life changed from COVID. This has caused recovery to appear to be sloppy, chaotic, even minimal, but with a good eye, one can see recovery has been consistent and undaunted as it worked its way through two natural disasters.
“We still are in some recovery, but what has occurred has been heroic as you consider all the chaos created by COVID.”