Volunteers pack boxes to aid fire victims

Monday, November 28, 2016 is a date that thousands of Sevier County, Tennessee residents and business owners will not soon forget. It is the day that fires began to ravage its way through the beautiful Smoky Mountains and burned tens of thousands of acres of land including homes, stores, parks and wildlife.

The aftermath of the deadly fires beckoned a call from the American Red Cross and local disaster relief teams. The result has been overwhelming.

Donations poured in from friends in the area as well as neighboring states and beyond; items for fire victims, other donations for first responders, and even others for those initial volunteers who assisted at shelters and donation drop-offs.

Locations that housed donations began to fill quickly and volunteers became a need at those warehouses, churches, and other delivery points. Various organizations are helping connect volunteers to locations in Sevier County who need assistance with tasks like sorting apparel, organizing food boxes, packing boxes for families with specific requests (i.e. baby items; microwavable food; pet items; etc.) and loading trucks that will deliver supplies.

Imagine walking into a massive warehouse to see a couple dozen volunteers of all ages filling bins of toiletries, others opening bags upon bags of donated t-shirts, socks and jackets, and just beyond those tables, a group of volunteers unload pallets of canned tuna and soup.

I was overwhelmed. I was emotional. I was touched.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that through the love and generosity of complete strangers, fire victims would soon have the essential items needed to make it one more day without a home, kitchen, and all those necessary items we take for granted.

As I, along with several volunteers, packed box after box of non-perishable food, I kept wondering if the recipients even liked cheese and crackers, protein bars or trail mix. Would they smile as they opened the box filled with oatmeal packets, hot chocolate and chips? To add a touch of Christmas spirit, peppermints and candy canes were placed carefully near the top of the boxes.

Later in the day, I learned of a family with an infant who lost everything in the fire. They were in need of a car seat, blanket, bottles, baby formula, bibs, diapers, wipes. When I reached for baby wipes, a note taped to the package caught my eye. It read, “Prayers from Washington, IN.”

Wow. Someone from Indiana had sent baby wipes to help someone they might never know in east Tennessee.

It was a sweet moment. I realized what a special place it is that I call “home.” A tragic event like the Sevier County wildfires has brought volunteers together for one mission: to help our neighbors. I am thankful I had the opportunity to see some amazing, selfless actions of many individuals. It is an experience I’ll remember for a long time.

Video from the LeConte Medical Center warehouse:

See photos from the LaConte Medical Center warehouse:

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