OCOEE, Tenn. (WDEF) — Recovery efforts are just beginning in Polk County, after an EF-3 tornado tore through the area, killing two people and leaving behind significant damage last week.
The storm hit the small town of Ocoee especially hard, but residents are coming together despite tragedy.
Volunteers at the Conasauga Masonic Lodge in Ocoee are spending these past few days feeding first responders and displaced residents impacted by the tornado.
Polk County EMA Director Stephen Lofty says at least 15 homes there are unlivable.
“What we’re trying to do right now, or have been doing, is to see to it that those folks have shelter, and that they have funds necessary to buy necessities, and to see to it that they’re fed and cared for until we can get the insurance companies in here,” Lofty said.
That’s where the volunteers come in.
They say they want to help folks keep their minds off the storm – at least if it’s just for a meal.
“God bless them, and we’ll just do everything we can in our community to help them out,” said Mike Johnson, Conasauga Masonic Lodge #396.
Ocoee residents Larry and Jennifer Cross lost four rental properties to the storm. Two more were damaged.
But the worst part was losing their two close friends, Mark and Saundra Faulk.
“They were not just renters. They had been there 15 years, and you know, it’s kind’ve hard to talk about them, but they were close to family,” Larry Cross said.
Residents say they’ve made a lot of progress cleaning up these past few days, but there’s a long way to go.
They’re grateful for all the volunteers’ help.
“The last two or three days, I’ve never seen such a combined effort, and it’s so appreciative,” Cross said.
Residents, coming together to rebuild their lives and community.
“Words can’t explain the gratitude and appreciation that not only what we do, but what they do, and that it just, you don’t realize how much it means until it happens to you,” Johnson said. “I’m just glad that we have people in our community that are so loving, supporting.”
The lodge is also planning a Christmas dinner on December 23 for families impacted by the storms.
They still need volunteers, food and even gifts for children.
Johnson says to call him at 423-303-6759 if you’d like to help or drop off any donations.