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Residents team up to help those in tornado

Oxford and Lafayette County residents were spared last week when a deadly tornado blew through neighboring Marshall County.

Now, some Oxford citizens are reaching out to help those whose sustained storm-related property damage.

Curtis Knight, one of the founders of Oxford Cares, a charity organization created Dec. 13 to provide gifts for financially struggling families in the region at Christmas, said they have been using the Facebook group to help Marshall County residents after the storm.

When they heard about the Holly Springs tornado, Knight said they continued to show how much Oxford Cares.

“We thought that was the end, and Mother Nature came calling,” Knight said. “Suddenly, we had another calling, and that was to help our neighbors in Holly Springs.”

Knight said the group sent donations to a funeral home in Holly Springs, and several residents are using the Oxford Cares Facebook group to communicate and organize local relief efforts to help Holly Springs residents affected by the tornado.

Michael Upton, major gift officer with the American Red Cross of North Mississippi, said there are a couple of Red Cross staff members from the Oxford area who have been involved in relief efforts in Holly Springs.

Upton, who worked for the University of Mississippi for nine years in Oxford before taking the Red Cross position in Tupelo, said Oxford residents can best help the Red Cross by donating money.

Widespread impact

“The major thing that we really need help with is for people to give to these nine counties that have really been impacted,” he said. “This includes the flooding that occurred on Christmas Day in North Mississippi.”

Upton said some of the counties that were impacted by 16 different tornadoes reported Wednesday, Dec. 23, are Benton, Coahoma, Marshall, Panola and Tippah. He said flooding was also reported in Monroe County.

Upton said there may have been some flooding in Lafayette County, but the Red Cross has not received any relief requests from residents at this time. However, those could come later.

Upton said 268 homes throughout nine counties have been destroyed or damaged.

“That’s an ongoing number,” he said. “Our damage assessment teams are still out surveying because of all the weather that happened on Christmas Day. So the good weather after lunch today (Monday) has helped.”

The Red Cross of North Mississippi has opened three shelters, provided more than 2,400 meals and snacks and provided 280 bulk supplies in storm recovery efforts, Upton said.

“We’ve deployed seven emergency response vehicles,” he said. “We’ve provided nearly 50 health services and mental health consultations, and deployed more than 80 Red Cross workers, with most of those being volunteers.”

According to the Red Cross website, the Eddie Smith Multipurpose Center at 285 North Memphis St. in Holly Springs has opened as a shelter. It is also a good source for volunteers seeking to help Holly Springs residents with storm recovery.

Volunteers are also needed for relief efforts in Holly Springs and other counties, Upton said. Volunteers can call 662-842-6101.

They can call the same number to donate, visit redcross.org to donate online, or mail a check to: American Red Cross of North Mississippi, 4127 Westside Drive Tupelo, 38801.

Anyone in need of assistance who has been affected by any of the disasters can call the disaster dispatch number at 855-891-7325.

For safety tips and volunteer information, visit the Red Cross website.

The International Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, a North Carolina-based organization, has also sent experts to assess the area after the tornado.

They report that heavy equipment and three disaster relief units — tractor-trailers loaded with relief supplies that serve as mobile command centers — are on the way.

“These storms have devastated hundreds of families in Texas and Mississippi,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, in a news release.

“Our hearts go out to those whose lives have been turned upside down this Christmas season. We are praying for the victims, and want to come alongside to help and share God’s love with them in their time of need.”

In Mississippi, a Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief unit with heavy-duty tarps, generators and chain saws has set up base at Ashland Baptist Church in Ashland. 

The organization will work to save personal belongings, tarp damaged roofs, clear debris and remove fallen trees. 

For information on volunteering or to donate to Samaritan’s Purse relief efforts, go to spvolunteernetwork.org or samaritanspurse.org.

About LaReeca Rucker

LaReeca Rucker is a writer, reporter and adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

A veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she spent a decade at the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger - Mississippi's largest daily newspaper - covering stories about crime, city government, civil rights, social justice, religion, art, culture and entertainment for the paper's print and web editions. She was also a USA Today contributor.

This year, she received a first place award from the Mississippi Press Association for “Best In-Depth Investigative Reporting.” The story written in 2014 for The Oxford Eagle chronicles the life of a young mother with two sons who have epilepsy, and details how she is patiently hoping legalized cannabis oil experimentation will lead to a cure for their disorder.

Her website is www.lareecarucker.com.

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