MADISONVILLE, Ky. — On Friday, Dec. 17, the scene at the parish center of Christ the King Catholic Church in Madisonville, Ky., was organized chaos anchored on a single purpose: to meet the needs of those reeling from devastation.
People and families who had been affected by the tornadoes browsed tables of donated items. A group of volunteers sorted and set out new donations. Another group of volunteers packed boxes with essentials that were then loaded into vans and shipped to the hardest hit communities.
Local high school student Camryn LaGrange, who has family in heavily affected Dawson Springs, about 20 miles away, was at the center of the efforts. She had pulled the relief operation together on December 11, a day after the tornadoes struck. She hasn’t stopped since.
“It’s been exhausting, heartbreaking, and stressful, but everyone is trying to stay afloat right now, and everyone is doing absolutely everything they can to help,” LaGrange said.
Among the places items were shipped were Mayfield, Bremen, and Dawson Springs — three of the western Kentucky communities suffering most. Some boxes went directly to people in need. Others were given to organizations in the area, such as the Salvation Army and YMCA.
The statewide death toll from the cluster of tornadoes was up to 77 people as of Dec. 20, making the storms the deadliest in Kentucky history.
LaGrange said clothes, toiletries, and food are what they have tried hardest to disburse. They are also providing generators and space heaters. Tarps became a significant need, with rainstorms persisting. One couple left the center carrying blankets, sleeping bags, and winter wear, preparing for colder temperatures.
“We’ve given out so much stuff, but we keep getting things, and it just keeps piling up,” LaGrange said. “No one expected this outpouring of support from anywhere … it’s amazing.”
The center is also distributing hundreds of dollars in gift cards given to them by Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Owensboro.
The challenge now is to keep the operation going. LaGrange noted high school students, who make up a sizable portion of the volunteers, have to go back to school Jan. 3, so they’re unsure how long they can keep the operation going. “We’re going to try, but the thing that we need to do most is give what we have and get it into the right hands,” LaGrange said, “and so that is our goal.”