Ginny Schaeffer’s 85-year-old mother sat on the edge of her bathtub clutching a flashlight in one hand and a rosary in the other as a tornado passed over her Mayfield, Ky., apartment the night of Dec. 10-11.
The storm damaged a building in her apartment complex some 30 feet away, said Schaeffer, the director of the Angela Merici Center for Spirituality, a ministry of the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville.
“I don’t know why her apartment is still standing,” Schaeffer said in an interview Dec. 15 on the Ursuline Sisters’ Lexington Road campus.
In the days following the tornadoes that caused death and destruction in Western Kentucky and neighboring states, the Ursuline Sisters and those who share the campus jumped into action to help tornado survivors like 85-year-old Teresa Schaeffer. Ursuline Associates, Sacred Heart School students and members of the schools’ faculty and staff came together for one cause — to help the community of Mayfield, where Ginny Schaeffer grew up.
The leadership of the Ursuline Sisters made a donation to purchase emergency relief items. Individual sisters, associates and members of the motherhouse staff donated items as well, according to the Ursuline Sisters.
Donna Moir, athletic director of Sacred Heart Academy — sponsored by the Ursuline Sisters — organized a collection drive the week of Dec. 13. The efforts resulted in enough clothing, toiletries, diapers, blankets and cleaning supplies to fill a 20-foot U-Haul truck.
On Dec. 15, student-athletes helped load the truck. Ursuline Sister Jean Anne Zappa, the congregation’s president, thanked the schools for their efforts and blessed the truck and its contents. The items were delivered to Mayfield that afternoon.
Ginny Schaeffer said the generosity of the Ursuline community brings her to tears.
“If anything good comes out of this, it’s that people have been so concerned and so generous,” she said. “Thank you seems so minuscule, but it’s the only thing I know to say.”
She said the donations remind her of the Bible story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. “The lesson is: You give what you have so others have what they need,” she said.
After the storms passed, Schaeffer said her mother opened her apartment to other elderly residents whose building was damaged.
“She’s 85-years-old, she couldn’t go dig them out, but she could let them come in and sit,” Schaeffer said.
The tornado that sounded like a “ ‘freight train going right through the house,’ ” as her mother described it to her, damaged other buildings in the complex, said Schaeffer. The complex is designed for elderly residents, she noted.
Though her mother’s apartment was spared, the whole complex has been condemned, she said. Her mother is moving in with Schaeffer’s sister, who lives in Marshall County, near Mayfield, she said. All the residents will be relocated elsewhere.
Schaeffer asked that people “keep everybody affected in your prayers. We’re in this for the long haul. Don’t forget them,” she said.
In Dawson Springs, Ky., a little more than 70 miles northeast of Mayfield, Julie Scott survived the tornado that damaged a large part of the city of fewer than 2,500 residents. Scott’s side of town was not damaged.
She and her husband were traveling in Nevada when the storms hit, she said, and flew home the next day. They’d seen pictures of the destruction but didn’t have a real sense of the extent until they saw it for themselves.
“You don’t realize how bad it is,” she said. “It’s horrible. Homes are flattened, apartments are gone. Thankfully our school is still standing.”
She’s also grateful that her son, a state trooper, and his family survived. Their home’s windows were ripped out, the roof was damaged and they have no power.
“But all that can be replaced. We’re very grateful,” said Scott, the sister of Deacon Mark Rougeux, a deacon of the Archdiocese of Louisville who serves at St. Patrick Church.
Resurrection Church, where Scott is a member, was heavily damaged and is being evaluated to determine if it can be repaired, she said. A resident of Dawson Springs has offered the congregation a building where they can celebrate Mass. They will start gathering to worship there on Christmas Eve.
“I’m positive the community will build the church back,” said Scott. “The outpouring of love and support we’re feeling from people all over the U.S. is awesome.”
The city has received an overflow of donations. They’ve filled the local high school with donated items. Food trucks have arrived to feed the survivors and people are on the streets handing out bottles of water, she said. An effort is also underway to clean up, though heavy rain has slowed that work.
Scott said what survivors in Dawson Springs still need is financial help.
Monetary donations can be made through Planters Bank. Gift cards and checks can be sent to: City of Dawson Springs, Ky., c/o Madisonville City Hall, 67 N. Main Street, Madisonville, Ky., 42431.