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Area residents offer helping hands to tornado victims


White Hall and Redfield residents wasted no time in banding together to lend aid and comfort to those struck by Sunday evening’s deadly tornadoes in Mayflower and Vilonia.

Moody Elementary School nurse Christie Park was moved by the tragic events that left 16 Arkansans dead. She felt compelled to take action, and when returning to her job Monday discovered her co-workers and a number of students had the same desire. So, Park organized a drive for contributions of bottled water.

After circulating word of the effort on Monday, Park saw a surge in contributions. Twenty 24-bottle cases of water had been dropped off at the school by Tuesday morning, and more is expected before a Saturday delivery.

“I felt like our school wanted to and could help others,” Park said. “I felt that we could do something simple but important and that our children can feel that they contributed. There are a lot of kids and teachers here who have friends and relatives in Vilonia and Mayflower, and they want to do something to help.”

Park said the water could certainly be used for drinking, but also for brushing teeth and even helping to care for pets.

“Your heart goes out for those folks who lost so much,” Park said.

Computer laboratory director Brandy Tomboli is overseeing a Gandy Elementary School campaign being held in conjunction with the American Red Cross. Gandy is seeking bottled water, leather gloves, batteries, flashlights, baby wipes, tarps, sunscreen, 55-gallon heavy-duty trash bags, individually wrapped snacks and hygiene products.

Tomboli said items may be dropped off in the front of the school. The merchandise is scheduled for delivery Monday by members of the White Hall Volunteer Fire Department.

Tomboli said the deadly storms left her with a broken heart.

“It’s easy for all of us to become complacent,” she said. “This really hit me hard, and I’m glad our school can do something to help.”

Taylor Elementary School Principal Tammie Canada said guidance counselor Amy Allen is directing an effort there to collect monetary donations, which will be turned over to the Red Cross for assorted purposes as needs arise. Canada stressed that arrangements have been made with the Red Cross that all funds contributed will be used solely for relief to Arkansas storm victims.

Canada said the school has sought a means of allowing people who might have wanted to help but weren’t sure what to do an easy opportunity to offer support.

Secretary Elaine King of Hardin Elementary School in Redfield said a collection of water and non-perishable food items is under way there. King said Principal Jeff Glover will be delivering the goods on Wednesday.

White Hall Fire Chief Sandy Castleberry, who is also a sergeant with the police department, said that he and eight firefighters — Michael Burleson, Will Johnson, Bryan Moore, John Reed, Steven Rice, Tracy Weaver, Chris White and Kevin Wood — took some emergency vehicles and a trailer into the tornado-struck areas late Sunday night and remained overnight to help in the emergency response effort.

“We got back to White Hall about noon Monday,” Castleberry said Tuesday. “We saw a lot of damage. It wasn’t as bad as what we saw in Joplin, Mo., but it was bad enough. We’ll go back to help more if we’re needed.”

Mayor Noel Foster said Tuesday that he has been in direct contact with the mayors of Mayflower and Vilonia to pledge assistance.

“Most Arkansas mayors have done the same,” Foster said. “I told them that White Hall is committed to helping in any way we can. I told them that the people of White Hall are good friends and neighbors.”

A number of White Hall churches and civic clubs are also taking steps to provide relief.