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At 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a level 3 state of emergency after 25 Tennesseans were killed in severe storms and tornadoes that ripped through the state overnight. An untold number of people are displaced and injured.

When disaster strikes, mainstream response often brings to light the lack of representation of the South's disproportionately low-income Black and brown residents' struggles. Mother Nature sure as hell doesn't discriminate. People, on the other hand, do. One weather event alone can't create the "perfect storm" of sub-par conditions that leave our most vulnerable and marginalized communities at much higher risk than those who can afford to evacuate, afford to rebuild, afford to move to "better" cities, and afford to build their lives in surroundings that don't threaten their wellbeing when tragedy—or oftentimes even the slightest push off balance—strikes.

See also: Fighting to save a gentrifying East Nashville

It is in the coordination of recovery efforts when those who are looking truly see who is most at risk: rural areas lacking funds and hands to rebuild as fast as urban centers, folks with mobility issues and disabilities that keep them from fleeing disaster zones, the homeless and families in precarious housing and mobile homes that are more easily flattened by the elements. In urban areas, gentrification upsets infrastructure, and aid comes first to those with the "most" to lose. Displacement splits families that lack the networks to go anywhere else in the first place.

See also: Losing Ground

That imbalance is further exemplified when trending aid efforts aren't properly vetted. Well-meaning bystanders close and afar often boost and empower charity organizations with anti-LGBT religious agendas, or flood understaffed teams centralized in areas where help is not needed the most. There is such a thing as the wrong type of help.

See also: On Blackness and bad weather

If you're able-bodied and in the area: show up in your neighborhood

Chainsaws are the best tool to bring given the massive amount of tree damage. Take work gloves and wear boots. "Go where you hear chainsaws, and your help will be needed," one volunteer said.

Alternatively, consider setting up a mini-supply station on the street with food and water, both for relief victims and for volunteers. Yesterday, one volunteer on the ground noted a neighborhood supply station in North Nashville making packages of food, water, blankets, and other necessary items. Volunteers also need food and water to keep going.

If you have both money and time, look into which is needed most. Hands On Nashville is a central hub for volunteering in Nashville. They are apparently overloaded with volunteers and volunteer opportunities, so much so that they're turning people away because they can't handle the demand to volunteer. They're in need of local resources and to expand capacity.

Don't tour around looking at the damage, especially for photo ops. Volunteers say traffic is hard enough to navigate around overcrowded streets and road closures. Be prepared to park out of the way and walk to a volunteer site.

Don't flock to already concentrated areas. East Nashville was hit the hardest, but has seen an influx of boots on the ground for recovery efforts. While there is still work to be done, other organizations can serve as hubs for redirecting hands where they are needed. North Nashville and Cookeville, where the tornado originally formed, received less severe damage—but volunteers are still working on downed trees on houses and roofs. Under-served communities remain underserved in times of crisis.

Ways to help from afar:

Gideon's Army is a Black Lives Matter affiliated charity on the ground in North Nashville helping minority communities get supplies to stay alive and rebuild. Many in these communities lost everything and possibly didn't have insurance to cover their losses. See their Facebook page for a responsive list of needed items and where to donate.

United Street Tours, a local organization that offers Black and woman-centered walking history tours in Nashville, is organizing financial contributions to Black-owned business owners that were affected.

Organizations like the Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund through the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee—who received a million dollar donation from Taylor Swift—connect nonprofits to long-term funding focused on rebuilding. However, the Cookeville Putnam County Tornado Relief Fund is the only official designated donation account with 100 percent of the donations going directly—and more immediately—to the impacted victims. There are three ways to donate money: 

  • Any Bank of Putnam County location.
  • Venmo: @CookevillePutnamCountyTornado
  • PayPal: @CookevillePutnamCountyTornadoReliefFund

If you need assistance:

Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee is a great resource as well for underserved communities. They are the largest food bank in the area and are working in overdrive to help respond to the disaster.

The Nashville United States Bartenders Guild has organized a GoFundMe to direct donations toward food and beverage service industry professionals who are in need of assistance with medical bills, loss of employment or home damage, and funeral costs for the families. If you or someone close to you is a service industry professional who is facing financial hardship, email info@usbgnashville.org with a memo about your needs.

Nashville Diaper Connection is the largest diaper bank in the area.

Therapists and mental health professionals in Nashville and surrounding areas are offering pro bono disaster response services.

Individuals in Davidson, Putnam, and Wilson counties who may be eligible for FEMA's IA program can begin the application process at www.disasterassistance.gov.  FEMA also provides a Disaster Assistance Helpline, 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585, to help individuals with questions about the application process, including how to apply. More information on FEMA's IA program is at https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance.  

FEMA's PA program will provide reimbursement assistance to Davidson, Putnam, and Wilson county governments for costs associated with the severe weather response and cleanup. More information on FEMA's PA program is at: https://www.fema.gov/public-assistance-local-state-tribal-and-non-profit.

Patrick Sheehan, director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) indicates more counties and more categories of FEMA's PA reimbursement help may be added to the federal declaration.


Have a resource to add? Email editors@scalawagmag.org

Lovey Cooper

Lovey Cooper is Scalawag's Managing Editor and the voice behind This Week in the South. Follow her on Twitter: @LoveyCooper.