Congratulations to these three finalists in the Disaster Relief category of the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards! Vote for your favorite story of service until June 15 at the button below!
Volunteers with The Community Resource Center
When the March 3, 2020, tornadoes hit, Maria Amado headed straight to the Community Resource Center, set up a workspace, and has barely left since. As the CRC’s board chair, she was already well positioned to help advance CRC’s mission of meeting basic needs in the Middle Tennessee community. But when 2020 brought multiple disasters to Nashville, Amado’s support for the resource hub kicked into overdrive.
She answered phones, did interviews, unloaded trucks, took supplies to their destinations, organized hundreds of volunteers, secured donations of tons of items, and even learned how to drive a forklift so she could be even more useful in the CRC’s warehouse.
“Maria lives and breathes the mission of volunteerism,” says her nominator, Cindie Burkett. “Her passion for what she does sets her apart and the community knows her by her first name for the support she has provided.”
When COVID-19 hit Middle Tennessee, many organizations and businesses paused operations. The Community Resource Center — which, at the time, had just one paid employee: their executive director — ramped up its response with Maria’s help and distributed tens of thousands of hygiene and cleaning kits to the community, as well as personal protective equipment and other items that were hard to find in the spring of 2020.
CRC became aware of 300 local military members slated to return from overseas deployment who were to begin quarantine. These soldiers had only what was in their rucksacks — no linens for their beds. Amado personally spent six hours on the phone securing 300 sets of bedding — sheets, pillows, and blankets that could be delivered in 48 hours.
When a bomb went off downtown on Christmas Day, Amado left her family and went to the CRC warehouse. Phone outages made it impossible to contact CRC’s executive director, so Amado became the sole contact for the Office of Emergency Management, and helped lead CRC’s efforts to provide food and supplies to first responders, federal agents, and survivors.
“I cannot remember a time when I was not volunteering,” Amado says. “It has been a part of my family’s life, my life, even as a child. Helping others empowers us, grounds us, feeds us intellectually and spiritually. The more we learn about the challenges our neighbors face, the easier it is for us to be the change we want to see — for us to create healthy, stable productive happy communities.”
Emergency Support Unit
Nashville Office of Emergency Management
Nashville’s Office of Emergency Management Emergency Support Unit (OEM ESU) is a group of a couple dozen trained individuals who provide critical services for the city — all while many Nashvillians don’t realize they are volunteers!
Nashville’s Dive Rescue team, which handles all water rescues and recoveries — all volunteers. Nashville’s Swift Water rescue team that recently saved dozens of people during flooding — volunteers. The K9 search and rescue team that searched the rubble on 2nd Avenue for survivors after the Christmas Day bombing — volunteers. And the weather/disaster response team that helped lead recovery efforts after the March 2020 tornado — volunteers. Working alongside police, fire, and emergency medical technicians, the more than 40 men and women on the team are sometimes overlooked, because when people see them in uniform or in the news, they don’t realize these highly-trained first responders have other 9-to-5 jobs, yet put hundreds of hours in each year responding to whatever weather or emergency disasters our city faces.
During the tornado, this team was heavily involved with coordinating response and recovery efforts — everything from search and rescue to connecting survivors with resources and helping provide recovery services. When the bombing happened on Second Avenue, the team deployed to search for survivors in the rubble. The team is called out regularly to help with weather-related incidents and water-related accidents.
This team of volunteers — who come from all walks of life — has literally saved dozens of lives, helped provide physical and logistical support during disasters to Nashville residents, and regularly provides the city with services it would not otherwise have. OEM ESU saves the city hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by volunteering their services, as a majority of its members volunteer more than 200 hours a year.
“Many of our members are native Nashvillians with deep ties to this community,” says ESU’s David Crane. “Some knew Ms. Strobel and her lifetime commitment to service. We consider it an honor and privilege to be included in the list of finalists for this award bearing her name and legacy.”
Volunteered in North Nashville to assist with tornado response
When a tornado ripped through Middle Tennessee in the wee hours of March 3, 2020, Belmont senior Nicholas Renfroe immediately sprang into action. He contacted his neighbors, church board members, and fellow Belmont students, and organized a day of service. In just 48 hours, Renfroe connected 250 volunteers and arranged to shuttle them from his South Nashville church to help survivors in North Nashville clean up their devastated neighborhoods.
Renfroe then organized a monthlong dropoff where members of his church could donate essential items and nonperishable food to displaced North Nashvillians. More than 1,200 toiletries, articles of clothing, infant items, and more were distributed to survivors over the following weeks.
When COVID-19 shut down churches across the region, Renfroe developed an app for his church, Lake Providence Missionary Baptist, so that members — in particular senior citizens — could stay connected and prevent loneliness and isolation. The app will continue to connect church members for years to come.
“My faith is very important to me,” Renfroe says, “and one of the core principles of my Christian faith is services. I believe that the most common way that God answers a prayer for a miracle in the life of someone is through individuals and communities who use their gifts and talents to benefit those around them.”
Additionally, Renfroe was selected to be part of the American Cancer Society’s Men Wear Pink Campaign in October to raise awareness of breast cancer. Renfroe baked cakes and pies to sell and raised more than $2,000.
“What sets Nick apart is his willingness to meet a need even while he has other obligations to attend to,” says his nominator. “He was a senior in college, working a full-time job, and had other social and personal obligations. Time and time again, when a need arises, Nick will stop what he is doing to help.”
To see a full list of the nominees for the 35th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards, click here.