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On Sunday, July 16, 2023, Mr. Leon Fluker, LaWanda Fluker’s dad, announced to church members that, “Christmas came early!”
The devastating tornadoes that hit the Mississippi Delta in March 2023, called FEMA DR-4697, was a Presidentially declared disaster, leading to loss of life, damage and destruction of thousands of homes, and displacement of families. Fallen trees and extensive debris made transportation difficult in the early weeks. Many communities struggled in this difficult environment, some of which had been hit by previous disasters.
During the spring and summer, Mississippi Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (MS VOAD) met regularly via videoconference to share updates, discuss unmet needs, and identify resources to support communities in their recovery from the March storms. Among the attendees were representatives from organizations and agencies including FEMA, American Red Cross, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), as well as religious groups such as Lutheran Disaster Services, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCO) and Adventist Community Services.
The Black Resilience Network Emergency Operations Center (BRNEOC) launched its first activation following DR-4697 and was invited to join the MS-VOAD virtual meetings to ensure equity in response to the needs of some of the communities hardest hit by the March storms. All Healers Mental Health Alliance (AHMHA) and Next Leadership Development coordinated the Operations and Planning Sections for the BRNEOC's activation.
AHMA, a BRNEOC representative, attended a Vibrant conference in May in Washington, DC and met LaWanda Fluker. Ms. Fluker is a case manager by profession whose hometown is Black Hawk, MS, in Carroll County, one of the federally declared counties that sustained damage from the March storms. Ms. Fluker reported that numerous members of her community and home church, Mount Nebo CME Church, experienced damage to their homes, job loss, and other hardships as a result of the storms, yet did not receive needed resources. This revelation prompted the BRNEOC to inquire during the MS VOAD calls about which organizations had resources that could be helpful.
Ray Chandler of Hattiesburg, MS and Lillie Buckingham of Adventist Community Services offered to help by establishing a mobile distribution by packaging and transporting resources to Black Hawk. LaWanda Fluker agreed to be the liaison with the church for this initiative. The FEMA VAL in the area, Tamara Theiler, connected Ms. Fluker with a distribution site in Rolling Fork, MS which had items to spare. Mr. Chandler gathered supplies in Hattiesburg, drove to Rolling Fork to pick up more items there, and transported the entire load to Black Hawk on Saturday, July 15. The items for distribution in boxes and transparent plastic bags included wipes, personal hygiene products, food items, paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning products. Ms. Fluker and her family members met with Mr. Chandler and helped unload the truck. The abundance of boxes and bags of resources overwhelmed Mount Nebo CME Church, which is a small church, necessitating the use of the church pews to stack the items.
On Sunday, July 16, 2023, Mr. Leon Fluker, LaWanda Fluker’s dad, announced to church members that, “Christmas came early!” There was resounding agreement with this statement among congregants and members of the Black Hawk community that came to the church to pick up their boxes and bags, as well as elderly and sick community residents for whom church volunteers delivered items to their homes. This response was a major change from the assumption of many community members that their area had been forgotten. Recipients were grateful for the largesse that arose from the collaboration of organizations and agencies which is a testament to the value of MS VOAD of bringing organizations together in the aftermath of disasters to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate disaster response.
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Ms. Lawanda Fluker is coordinating funds for the church.