The events on the evening of April 27 left their mark in Arkansas weather history as a destructive EF4 tornado ripped through several small towns, leaving behind miles of debris in communities that looks more like a combat zones than the Natural State.
As the magnitude of storms was revealed with the morning light the following day, volunteers began to mobilize in full force, collecting donations of clothes and supplies, and gearing up to start sorting through the debris, helping to clean up treasured possessions of residents in Mayflower, Vilonia and surrounding areas in central Arkansas.
The storms, determined by public records to be the deadliest in the state since 1968, left behind physical damage estimated in the millions and an emotional toll that cannot be calculated. But in the days immediately following, EAST students, facilitators and staff jumped into action to serve those affected.
For the past two weeks, a number of EAST programs in Arkansas have volunteered to help communities clean up and gathered thousands of donations of clothes, water and supplies for the tornado victims.
Some of those programs and their efforts include:
Clinton High School EAST – Partnered with other school groups to fill collection bins with water and toiletries and donated the items to the Salvation Army in Conway, Ark.
Dover High School EAST – Organized an emergency relief event to gather items to meet immediate needs of those affected by collaborating with an area chaplain. Students created posters for both print and digital distribution, and attached encouraging messages to water bottle wraps. The first group of items were delivered to a Mayflower distribution site with plans to deliver more donations in the coming days.
Dover Middle School EAST – Communicated with Vilonia Middle School to begin planning a service project to help the victims in Vilonia.
Drew Central High School EAST – Partnered with the agriculture program to collect three truckloads of canned goods, water, clothing, and toys for people in Vilonia and Mayflower.
Greenbrier High School EAST – Partnered with the Wagon Wheel Restaurant to serve breakfast to volunteers staying at the Arkansas District Pentecostal Ministry Disaster Relief Center and the Vilonia Senior Citizen Center. Following breakfast, EAST students joined volunteers in clean up efforts.
Hamburg High School EAST– Began collecting donations May 5 to send to communities.
Mansfield High School EAST – Currently collecting items through May 16 to be donated to tornado victims.
Maumelle Middle School EAST – Organized a “Donation a Day” effort to collect specific items each day for victims including toiletries, toys for children, blankets and pet items. A collection jar has been placed in the school’s office to be given to First Security bank for gift card purchases. Efforts are also being focused on assisting victims in Ferndale and Center Hill who have had minimal assistance in relief activities.
Nettleton Junior High EAST and Nettleton High School EAST – Collaborated with several school clubs and organizations, the Nettleton Public School District, fraternities and sororities at Arkansas State University and Pink Ink Screen Printing to sell HOPE for HOME disaster relief t-shirts with proceeds benefiting tornado victims through the Red Cross.
Russellville High School EAST – Accepted donations for tornado victims through its website and EAST students set up donation boxes around the campus.
North Little Rock High School East Campus EAST –Coordinated a collection site for the community to donate items for tornado relief effort that included sorting, packing, loading and delivery to Vilonia, Friendship and Ferndale/Paron. On site, EAST students helped tornado victims load their vehicles with needed items. In Ferndale the team delivered over 1,800 pounds of food to the veterinarian’s office.
Strong High School EAST – Raised $500 for tornado relief efforts in Vilonia and delivered the funds to the Vilonia High School softball team. Strong EAST students invite other EAST programs to match the funds raised.
Vilonia High School EAST– Collected and restored photographs found among tornado debris to return them to their owners. More information is found on the Vilonia Public Schools website: http://www.viloniaschools.org/around-vtown/post/2636
Wynne High School EAST – Organized donation sites in Wynne and collaborated with Vilonia High School EAST students to deliver items and assist with tornado debris clean up.
All of these efforts underscored how connected the EAST family is between communities. While many of these projects are nowhere near as sophisticated as “typical” EAST projects, they do underscore the immediate need. In the days to come EAST students will undoubtedly begin to do what they do best: look for opportunities to create sophisticated projects using their vast technological and intellectual resources to help all the affected communities recover.
On a personal note, EAST staff volunteered in Vilonia Tuesday, May 6, to assist in clean up efforts. Like so many others, we were directly affected by this tragedy. One staff member lost a family member and one lives in Vilonia (fortunately she sustained only minor damage to her home). Our thoughts and prayers are with the communities that were ravaged by the storm and we take comfort in knowing as terrible as it is, an opportunity has been provided to show our hearts and love to our neighbors.
A photo gallery of EAST at work in the affected communities can be found here: http://bit.ly/EASTtornout