Several members of the Davidson County Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) — of which Hands On Nashville is a part — reflect on the recovery efforts since the March 2020 tornadoes that devastated many of Nashville’s iconic neighborhoods.
In the video above, several representatives of the LTRG share their stories and updates on how recovery is going: Kathy Floyd-Buggs, Director of Neighborhoods for the Nashville Mayor’s Office; Keith Branson, Executive Director of Westminster Home Connection; Tina Doniger, Executive Director of Community Resource Center; Amy Fair, Vice President of Donor Services at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee; Alisha Smith Haddock, Community-Based Services Director at Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Eileen Lowery, Director of Tornado Recovery Connection at Tn Conference of UMCOR; and Lori Shinton, Executive Director of Hands On Nashville.
Finding and serving tornado survivors — in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and economic crisis, no less — remains the laser-like focus of the LTRG.
The LTRG is a volunteer collaboration of multiple organizations, including but not limited to nonprofit agencies, community civic and service groups, faith-based, and educational groups that meet and work together to address the long-term needs of Metro Nashville residents who have been affected by disaster.
As detailed in its bylaws, the LTRG’s mission is to provide coordinated management of the long-term recovery response to individuals in Nashville/Davidson County affected by disaster.
The LTRG offers additional long-term assistance to individuals affected by the disaster who do not have adequate personal resources, and stewards volunteer, material and financial resources.
Its goal is to provide cost-effective and coordinated delivery of services so that survivors receive unduplicated assistance in a timely, efficient and equitable manner.
With more than 80 individuals representing 30 organizations participating on regularly scheduled calls, the group has, to date:
• Identified the areas of greatest need
• Identified organizations capable of addressing those needs
• Worked to ensure it is supporting each organization’s services while providing support to survivors from all of the impacted areas in Nashville
When the tornadoes hit, Melissa Alexander wasted no time finding a volunteer project to help survivors.
That’s who Melissa is, though — she goes above and beyond for people, and doesn’t seem to think twice about it. That makes her among the most prolific tornado-response volunteers in HON.org’s database, having registered for dozens of projects and logged hundreds of volunteer hours.
“After the tornado hit, I knew I couldn’t just stay home,” she says. “I’m from Texas, and that’s just not what you do there. After a disaster, if someone needs your help, you just go.”
Melissa lives in Hermitage, about a block away from the path of destruction that spanned more than 60 miles overnight on March 2, 2020. She was without power for four days, and, looking back, is grateful to have had the opportunity to get out of the house and be of service to others.
She began volunteering at the Hermitage Community Center, sorting donations of apples, oranges, and other food and essentials. After about a week, when the center was running smoothly, she began looking for other ways to help. She had already attended volunteer leadership training at the Hands On Nashville headquarters. A liaison from Mayor John Cooper’s office determined she would be a great fit to begin supporting case management by alerting survivors to the resources that were available.
Melissa began canvassing the Hermitage area daily, going door to door to ask residents a series of questions:
“Are you working with a good contractor? Are they licensed?”
“Do you have your tetanus shot?”
“Do you know how to get to the community center?”
“Do you have your water and power turned on?”
It was more or less what she had been trained for, Melissa says, and she enjoyed the spark of hope residents would show when she was able to share information on a resource they were previously unaware of.
“‘They would ask, ‘Who are you with?’” and I would say, ‘Oh, I’m just a volunteer with Hands On Nashville, going around to make sure you’re aware of all of the services available in the community after a tornado.’ They loved it,” she says. “They were so grateful that somebody was just coming around and checking in on them.”
Melissa volunteered for weeks this way, reporting each morning to the city’s liaison, receiving her neighborhood assignments, then heading out with her bags of apples and oranges to distribute throughout the community. She estimates she spent more than 300 hours volunteering over the course of three months.
One day in particular stands out to Melissa — the day she was reassigned to North Nashville, on March 27. Rain was moving into the area, and the city needed additional help identifying houses that needed tarps.
“I went to Project Connect Nashville and started volunteering over there, four days a week, for about three months,” she says. “I’m still pretty committed to Project Connect. They do a lot for that North Nashville community.”
Once in North Nashville, Melissa says she found strength in the community to keep coming back day after day. The work was tiring, but, without fail, each morning when she arrived, there would be 30 people waiting outside Project Connect’s doors for a hot meal.
“When you see that many people waiting to get a hot meal, you can’t just say no,” Melissa says. “And the people were so eager for help. They wanted to know what resources were available or how to do something.”
And that’s how Melissa met Mary.
“She’s the lady who made me cry on my first day,” Melissa says. “A neighbor had called to bring her meals, and I was the first one to have checked up on her since the storm. That day she was upset because her FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) request was denied, and she just bawled.”
Melissa bonded with Mary, who is 83 years old, right away. She worked to get Mary’s phone back in service, reinstall her security light, and create some raised garden beds for her. They still talk or text regularly.
“I even helped her organize the inside of her house, and we shredded papers for three days,” Melissa says. “She kept everything. She had checkbooks from the ’80s. So I helped her shred papers, and it was so fun. Older people have the best stories.”
Throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns, Melissa continued to work with Project Connect. She’s an avid mask-wearer, and says she practiced good hygiene long before the pandemic, crediting her work as a behavioral analyst who often worked with clients with auto-immune disorders. She says the Red Cross and Project Connect were thorough with their protocols, and that she never felt unsafe while volunteering.
Melissa’s background has proved invaluable throughout her time volunteering. Being from Texas, she was familiar with disaster response and FEMA, and by working with lower-income families she’s also familiar with food-assistance and housing programs. As Project Connect transitioned their services to working mainly from the resource center, Melissa jokes that she became known as the “resource guru.” To this day she has about 60 bookmarks — in multiple languages — stored in her phone to offer to people for help.
“You always have a skill,” she says, “and you always have something you can do that goes toward something that someone else needs.”
And while the recovery process has spanned the past year, Melissa knows there’s still more recovery and healing that needs to happen.
“There’s so many houses still not touched,” she says. “You can drive through Hermitage now and see the changes. But in North, there’s still boards on the windows, tarps on the roofs. There’s still so much work to be done.”
Tornado survivors can get access to a variety of resources and support through the Tornado Recovery Connection. If you know any tornado survivors, please make sure they know to call TRC at 615-270-9255.
Hands On Nashville is proud to partner with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville to share a survey with Nashvillians that will gauge how they’re dealing with multiple forms of stress. The university’s Jennifer First and Mary Held are working to understand how dealing with compounding stressors affects emotional health, including resilience that helps people cope.
The hope is that the data collected from the survey will help agencies provide better services for Nashville residents affected by multiple forms of stress, including the March 2020 tornados, COVID-19, and daily stressors. The survey does not ask for any names or any identifying information from participants.
Participants are invited to fill out the survey if they:
Are at least 18 years old
Lived in Nashville during the March 2020 tornadoes
In this post, we will be updating information as it becomes available. To view our list of resources, click here. If you are looking to volunteer or donate to a disaster relief cause, click here. To view updated recommendations regarding volunteering and COVID-19, click here.
4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 25
Tornado Debris Collection Update from Metropolitan Nashville Department of Public Works:
MNDPW is temporarily pausing debris pick-up in tornado impacted areas for 2 weeks. The city would like to give residents in these areas an opportunity to get debris onto the curb, and will resume pickup on April 6, 2020. At that time, they will resume regular circulation through all impacted areas in an effort to remove all curbside tornado debris.
The Red Cross is experiencing severe blood shortages right now due to canceled blood drives across the country. If you are able to donate blood, you can fulfill a critical need felt by our neighbors. Click here to learn more about the need and the measures the Red Cross is taking to protect donors from COVID-19 exposure. Then click here to schedule an appointment.
2:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 17
Hands On Nashville extends our thanks to hubNashville and more than a dozen local roofing professionals for their collaboration this past week in which more than 45 roofs were tarped by volunteers in response to the devastating March 3 tornado.
As of today, hubNashville and HON are no longer accepting requests for volunteer roof tarping.
hubNashville is available year-round, and is a one-stop shop to request Metro Nashville Davidson County services and information, available by calling 311, visiting hub.nashville.gov, or through the hubNashville 311 app.
This following is a press release from the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.
Metro Nashville is asking for recovery volunteers to help keep damaged neighborhoods accessible to first responders
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – (March 7, 2020) Please, first responders and repair crews need your help.
Continued traffic congestion in the most heavily impacted areas of Nashville will hamper the continued recovery process for those dealing with the most damage.
The Nashville Office of Emergency Management in partnership with Metro Nashville Police and Metro Nashville Public Schools is launching a park-and-ride service on March 8 for tornado recovery volunteers to help them reach the areas of greatest need in North Nashville and East Nashville.
Tornado recovery volunteers should plan to park at Nissan Stadium located at 1 Titans Way, Nashville, TN 37213.
Independent volunteers should park in Lot “R” of Nissan Stadium. Lot “R” is designated as the two parking lots at the bottom of the pedestrian bridge next to Nissan Stadium.
Volunteers working with Hands on Nashville should continue to use parking lots G, M, A, B and D based on where their opportunity states.
Shuttles will transport tornado recovery volunteers from Lot “R” to the areas of greatest need beginning at 9:00 am and shuttles will run continuously until 6:00 pm.
Shuttles will drop off tornado recovery volunteers at the following locations:
21st Avenue North and Scovel Street 14th Avenue North and Cockrill Street
Fatherland Street and 11th Street 16th Street and Russell Street.
Volunteers working with Hands on Nashville should continue to use parking lots G, M, A, B and D.
Due to the debris in areas of Nashville, private vehicles will not be allowed to access certain neighborhoods.
Shuttles will transport volunteers into these areas that are inaccessible to the general public.
The number of private vehicles in the most impacted areas of the city has hampered entry for large commercial vehicles including Metro Nashville Public Works trucks, Metro Nashville Water Services crews and NES repair trucks.
Motorists should look for electronic message boards as they approach Nissan Stadium for directions to parking lot “R”.
Metro’s Community Hotline will continue to be staffed 24 hours a day and can be reached by calling (615) 862-8750 for all non-emergency, weather-related inquiries, the reporting of hazards and to request assistance. In case of an emergency, residents should call 911.
The NERVE (Nashville Emergency Response Viewing Engine) has been activated in coordination with this EOC activation. This site will provide information about storm related road closures, any evacuation areas or routes, shelters and relief centers. This also includes a media tab with a Twitter feed and press releases.
Volunteers signed up for the following projects should meet at Nissan Stadium to catch a shuttle to their project location: