If you read our story What Stands in a Storm last year, you might remember Holly Hart, the driving force behind Toomers for Tuscaloosa, a group of Auburn fans who banded together to help their bitterest rivals in Tuscaloosa. Armed with a Facebook page, a smart phone, and uncommon sense, Holly — an interior designer and mother of two grown kids– played dispatcher-controller for 80,000 individuals who either needed help, or wanted to help.
Holly defines my idea of a hometown hero. She has no training in emergency management. She didn't have an army of volunteers. Or a big corporate budget. Or anyformal qualifications, really, that would have prepared her to do what she did.
But the woman had heart. And the sense to find out what people needed, plus the courage to ask, to search, to beg, until she found a way to get it to them. With her iPhone and a Facebook page, she filled trucks with diapers and formula, moved mountains of cleaning supplies across state lines. Holly calls herself the "Chief Begging Officer" for Toomers, and has helped more towns across the South — especially Tuscaloosa — than any individual I know.
This, from a woman who, like all good Auburn fans, claims a healthy orange-blooded hatred of Alabama. "I'll tell you straight," she said. "I cheer for Auburn and whoever is playing Alabama."
Holly is one exceptional example of many everyday heroes who stepped up in a crisis to help neighbors and strangers, often before official first-responders could even reach the scene. Now EMTs and official emergency agencies invite her to speak at their conferences. They want to hear what she did and how she did it. How cool is that?
A year after the storm, Holly is still at it. She kept at it, even through a football season that saw her rivals win a National Championship. Even through Christmas. Especially through Christmas. Toomer's "adopted" 130 kids, many of whom they had met while delivering supplies in Holt. One kid said all he wanted for Christmas was a pair of hearing aids so his grandpa could hear his grandma as she struggled against cancer.
This Saturday, Bo Bikes Bama draws to a celebratory close as the cyclists roll into Tuscaloosa. The last three miles are a "community ride" — open to the public — and Holly/Toomers offered to cook. Inexhaustable, this woman!
"I’ve learned that people will help if you give them an opportunity, and if you let them know what’s needed," Holly said. "And I’ve learned that when you think you can’t go any more, you’ve always got a little bit left in you."
What a perfect meditation for tomorrow's 50-day ride.