With Hurricane Irma pounding Florida and threatening to leave everyone from Miami to Georgia with storm damage, flooding and destruction, thousands hit the road and headed up to friends and relatives in North Alabama. On September 8, Mobile residents noticed a steep uptick in interstate drivers—adding traffic jams to the growing list of problems.
But for one group of evacuees, help came when they stopped at Gov. Guy Hunt Rest Area outside Cullman.
The rest stop became a last-minute refuge for the hundreds who made it to Cullman County. They were stranded, hungry and tired. Many of them had nowhere to go and no clue how to get resources. Soon enough, and in the spirit of true southern hospitality, word got out to people who lived in the area, and donations started pouring in.
The Cullman Tribune reports that Rhonda Hagemore, a volunteer with the Dodge City Volunteer Fire Department, heard that evacuees were stranded at the rest stop after traveling 16 hours. Hotels were full as far north as Nashville, so they really didn’t have anywhere to go.
Rhonda posted a Facebook message asking for help, but she couldn’t imagine what would happen next. The information went viral with people from Dodge City, Hanceville, Cullman, Crane Hill, Smith Lake communities and other surrounding towns jumping into action to help.
“We have fed over 2,000 people and have given out a ton of supplies to meet people’s everyday living needs,” Rhonda wrote on Facebook. “We have sent 4 trailers packed with supplies to places that are housing evacuees and still have supplies. We are still receiving supplies because the need will continue for a while. What we have left over, we will send to Florida on the semis that will be taking it down. We have monetary donations as well, and we have been filling people’s cars up with gas. Fixing people tires or replacing their tires, thanks to J&D Tires at Dodge City. We have used the money to buy medications for sick children.”
Rhonda took some food and drinks to the evacuees. Jack’s employees brought more than 60 hamburgers in addition to donations from Pizza Hut, Buffalo Wild Wings, CiCi’s Pizza and Williams BBQ. Olive Garden employees even brought salad, pasta and breadsticks for the weary travelers.
Teenagers even got involved with the outreach. The Valley View Baptist Church Youth Group set up a tent at the Jet Pep in Dodge City to hand out hot dogs, chips and cookies.
It didn’t end with food. One couple paid for families to stay several nights at the cabins at Smith Lake.
Another person in the area, Jackie Kinney, posted that she overheard an older couple talking to a family of evacuees at a gas station. Although the family was traveling with two children and two dogs, the older couple said they had a new rental home they would like to offer the family free of charge.
“The older man said, ‘If it’s ok, let’s go over to Cracker Barrel and get you fed first,’ ” Jackie wrote. “The young mom started crying, and I could tell they were all road weary, so this was welcomed relief. They left heading to (Cracker Barrel), but those of us standing there watching this scene unfold were teary eyed ourselves. The lady pumping gas beside me said, ‘And THAT, my friends, is what Jesus would do.”’
If you know of any other groups helping Florida evacuees, let us know by emailing Jessie Harbin at [email protected]
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