By Michaela Gibson Morris
TUPELO – Thousands of volunteers dug into the tornado debris around Tupelo and Lee County on Saturday.
The United Way of Northeast Mississippi received forms back from 2,000 volunteers and had another 1,000 forms out with volunteers who are expected to turn the tracking sheets back in over the weekend. They were working across tornado-ravaged areas from Ballard Park to the Auburn community.
“The reports we got back were that tremendous progress was made,” said Robin Matkin, United Way communication director.
Sonia Butler was part of a team of Toyota Mississippi team members working in the North Green Street area on Saturday morning. Most of the group had finished work at 4:45 a.m. that morning before they began collecting storm debris.
“I used to take people volunteering for granted,” said Butler, who saw first hand the devastation Katrina brought to McComb. “After you’ve been in a catastrophe, it makes you want to do for others the way people did for me and my family.”
Volunteers from Smithville Baptist Church have been out in force all week to return the favor their Lee County neighbors had done for them three years ago. Jim Gunter and one group from the church spent their morning clearing damaged trees and limbs around the Auburn community. It’s hard to see another community go through the same thing, Gunter said.
“After seeing Smithville, nothing surprises you, but it hurts to see it,” said Gunter, who lost his home in the April 2011 tornado.
A crew of United Way volunteers and volunteer firefighters from across North Mississippi worked their way across storm damaged properties on County Road 1766.
“It’s just amazing how the community responds,” said registered nurse Candais Bostick, who was working along side her husband Mooreville Fire Capt. Terry Bostick.
Volunteers are expected to be back out in force today. New volunteers can register, returning volunteers can check in if they need new assignments or to record their volunteer hours with the United Way at the reception center or the neighborhood outposts. The nonprofit agency is coordinating volunteers and tracking volunteer hours, which will assist Tupelo and Lee County in the reimbursement process with state and federal emergency agencies.
In addition to checking in, volunteers should:
• Wear closed-toe shoes and use work gloves to protect hands and feet.
• Bring hats and sunscreen as sunny, warm weather is forecast for Sunday.
• Bring tools to help clear the debris if able.