Last year, in the aftermath of the devastation of the tornadoes that hit the South, a box of can openers arrived at the headquarters for Toomers For Tuscaloosa. The founder of the non-profit, formed during that storm, wept when she received the box from a True Value in Brooklyn. It was what was needed to help open the thousands of canned goods going to people in need.
Now Holly Hart Shirley, a Birmingham interior designer turned executive director of Toomers For Tuscaloosa, is asking the South to help those affected by Superstorm Sandy. Toomers For Tuscaloosa is collecting material and financial donations this week so they can drive two trucks to Staten Island on Saturday, November 10.
Working with The Staten Island Giving Circle, items collected will be distributed to people in areas with the most need. A full list of items being collected is on The T4T website, and includes coats, non-perishable food, flashlights, blankets, and diapers. Drop-off points are centered in Alabama, although other locations (including Atlanta and Nashville) are being added daily.
“When the tornadoes came through Clay in January 2011, there was a man and his son who drove down from New York in a converted Sunbeam Bread truck, loaded with supplies. They volunteered to help people after that storm for two weeks,” Holly says. “And when April 27 happened, a woman in New York sent us an entire load of tarps to us. Now, it’s our turn.”
Since their work during the 2011 tornadoes, Toomers For Tuscaloosa has grown to become a national grassroots network. The heart of the organization are the people who create the network to respond to natural disasters (they just returned from working with communities in Louisiana affected by Hurricane Irene). With donors and volunteers in all the states, the 501(c)3 raised more than $3 million worth of supplies in the past year.
Manning Facebook and Twitter, Holly works to spread tips on emergency preparation, and then find out what communities need when storms strike. She works directly with organizations on the ground to find out exactly what they need. Holly has been working for the past week to mobilize volunteers to assist people affected by Sandy — like the pilot in Illinois who is volunteering his time to fly in supplies to JFK Airport, and the Brooklyn performance artists who have opened their warehouse to store donated supplies.
Using social media she listens for the needs, and then she works to respond to them.
On Thursday and Friday, former Auburn and Alabama players will help load the trucks. Then Holly and Michelle Gates, Toomers For Tuscaloosa outreach coordinator, will drive the trucks to Staten Island. They’ll stay as long as they’re needed.
“We help people during the storms of their lives,” she says.