Alabama tornadoes: How you can help

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Over the weekend, I read several beautifully written, deeply moving essays about the deadly line of tornadoes that swept through Alabama last week. I wanted to share a few of those essays here, as well as let people know where you can donate to help the many, many people left homeless by this disaster.

First, my old Alabama buddy Kyle Whitmire wrote a piece for CNN called "When a Monster Came to Alabama".

There is no getting accustomed to natural disasters, but in Alabama tornado emergencies are seasonal part of life. I was in first grade the first time our teachers took us into the hall and taught us to line up against the walls and curl in the fetal position with our hands covering our necks. I can't remember how old I was when my mom made me climb into an empty bathtub, but I do remember her lugging a mattress into the bathroom to throw over me in case things got bad ...

You look for the "debris ball" that means a twister is on the ground. And when they get close, you hide in a windowless room, closet or hallway. If you're on the road, you're supposed to pull off and hide in a ditch, although I'm not sure many folks actually do. Then you wait. Maybe it kills you. Probably it doesn't. When it's over, you call your family to say you're safe and ask them if they're safe. And then you look around outside to see if it's all still there. The experience is terrifying, but it comes with the exhilaration Winston Churchill attributed to being shot at and missed. Of course, nature doesn't always miss.

The other essay comes from writer Brian Oliu. It's something he pieced together at the Tuscaloosa public library, not quite sure whether he'd have the Internet access to post it.

[Tuscaloosa] is where I have lived, worked, and wrote for the past six years, made art, made friends, made mistakes, always making. At some point, the town was called "Tuscalooska", but there was an executive decision at some point to drop the "K", perhaps it made the town sound too stammering, too unsure of itself. There are some old buildings in Alberta City that still had signs that had the "K" still in the name. Those buildings are gone now ...

Commonly, I hear "You live in Alabama? Why?" from folks up north. The effort that has been put forward during these past few days is why. Tuscaloosa has given me more than I can ever repay it for, and now that it needs my help, I am trying the best that I can. One of the jokes I heard a lot when I first moved to Alabama is "You're studying writing in Alabama? Do they even know how to write?" The short answer is yes: they do know how to write. They know how to do a lot of things. They know how to come together. They know how to love. They know how to rebuild.

But as they clean up and rebuild, the people of Alabama do need help. Thousands of people lost their homes. They need basic necessities. The organizations supporting them need money.

• If you'd like to donate supplies, check out this list of needed items. At the bottom of the list is an address to donate supplies by mail, and a list of places in Alabama where supplies can be dropped off.

• There's a long list of places you can donate money, ranging from the Red Cross and United Way, to the Alabama Governor's Relief Fund, religious charities, and Habitat for Humanity.

• If you're in the area and want to donate your time and labor, you can do that, too. Hands on Birmingham is a great organization that's coordinating volunteer efforts within that city. Serve Alabama is a government initiative that's registering volunteers for the whole state.

Image: Tami Chappell / Reuters