The perfect antidote to the election debacle blues is being part of a group of humanity volunteering to help come back from the catastrophic fires that consumed thousands of acres of Smoky Mountain wilderness, devoured homes and stole the lives of people and animals, while creating homelessness and unemployment. Helping others restored my spirit today.
People helping people is the gift of disasters, if there could possibly be one. My heart swelled with admiration at the hundreds of people who labored today to be of service. We unpacked bags, built boxes, sorted and stuffed necessities into the new boxes and helped to traffic them through to those in dire need. We were a human assembly line that had one purpose in mind. Get it done quickly and efficiently so it all can be used.
The first stop is registration at the volunteer center where we filled out forms, showed official identity and were then given numbers and assigned to locations. I am #04016 sent to the distribution warehouse.
Surrealism begins when we pull into a warehouse provided pro-bono by the owners situated across the street from the “Titanic” attraction in this popular tourist city of Pigeon Forge. It’s the honky-tonk Vegas of Tennessee, part of the triad of visitors’ destinations that includes Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Or most recently known as the home of the devastating fires.
The National Guard is here in their military attire. They’re the transportation system of the highly organized operation at the warehouse. They’re the guys unloading the trucks filled with donations and sending them through to the warehouse. Then they pick up the finished sorted goods, take them out to reload trucks then sent to the “department store” building for a deeper re-sort into children’s clothes, men, women, warm weather, winter, food, necessities.
Our jobs in the warehouse are to unload the bags and sort the contents into food, beverages, toiletries, used and new clothes and winter clothes. Dave somebody is in charge of the warehouse and he’s a volunteer who’s turned that warehouse into a well-oiled, efficient assembly line of stuff and volunteers.
All our materials have been donated, including the building centers of organization. Then there are pallets, boxes, dollies, tape, magic markers and food for the volunteers that are plentiful. Since this disaster has not been officially declared a disaster area, there’s no money to spend. So generous people are rising to the occasion. It’s truly awe-inspiring.
My friend Jo and I first taped together boxes. And when there were none left we joined the groups who were filling the boxes with sorted materials. First beverages and food and then on to clothing. These groups were all self-gathering. We just went to the marked areas and started working, strangers becoming friends united by a cause. Newly stuffed and marked boxes get stacked on pallets and when the stack gets about five feet high, National Guardsmen shrink wrap the pallets and take them outside to be loaded into trucks. In it comes through the back, and out it goes from the front. I talked to a man from Cincinnati who used a week’s vacation time to work in the center. He’s been coming to Gatlinburg since he was a kid and he felt driven to participate in the restoration. Companies sent their employees to help. Private citizens gave their time. We were all equal in this mission to serve.
I am overwhelmed by the generosity of neighbors. No partisanship, no religious affiliation, no discrimination. Just compassionate humans who recognize that there but by the grace of circumstance go I.