MCEWEN, Tenn. – From death to new life, from devastation to hope, from fear to newfound faith, residents of Humphreys County have experienced a range of emotions over the past year as they were recovering from catastrophic flash floods that hit the region, especially Waverly and McEwen, August 21, 2021.
The impact killed 20 people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes, leaving many people in unpredictable situations.
But out of simple love of neighbor, several organizations have mobilized, working together to get families back on their feet. One such organization is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference at St. Patrick’s Church in McEwen, which has helped provide relief in over 100 cases.
“That’s who we are as Catholics,” said Father Zack Kirangu, pastor of St. Patrick. “It is the love of God and the love of neighbour. It’s bringing the Christian faith, the Catholic faith to people and finding comfort for people.
“St. Vincent de Paul is a great blessing to the parish here in St. Patrick because St. Vincent de Paul has been the prophetic bearing for us,” he told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. “St. Vincent de Paul is the image of St. Patrick’s Church because that’s where we meet the need.
“‘No’ is not in my vocabulary,” added Barbara Hooper, vice president of the St. Vincent de Paul Conference in St. Patrick and flood relief coordinator. Helping these families in need “is exactly what we do”.
Hooper and Eddie Bozman, another conference member, led the flood relief effort for the conference.
They wasted no time after the floods to respond, jumping in where there was a need, whether it was supplies right after the flood or later repairing homes and supplying multiple “homes in a box” – a collection of household items to furnish a home – for families once their home was habitable again.
Additionally, they have partnered with various organizations that have helped bring many projects to fruition, including Inspiritus, Knights of Columbus, St. Louis Sluggers, Mennonites, Long-Term Recovery Group as well as various local churches.
And it is thanks to financial donations from organizations, churches and individuals around the world, equivalent to 20 times their normal annual budget, that have made this possible.
For the Bryant family – Shane, Tiffany, Chasity, 18, Kaylynn, 20, and Cheyanna, 21 – the day of the flood not only cost them their home, but also their daughter and sister. , Lilly, 15, after being caught in the current of floodwaters as she tried to get to safety with her sisters and friends.
The Bryants had to understand their living situation and deal with their sudden grief. But help stepped in, along with a little divine intervention.
While the first floor of their home was unsalvageable, the second floor, where Lilly’s bedroom was, was not damaged by the floodwaters. So, after buying a 700 square foot house and completing an addition, they were able to dedicate a room to Lilly with all of her belongings.
“It’s nice to go in there and sit and look at your stuff and touch it and reminisce,” Tiffany Bryant said. “It’s hard. It’s always hard. It’s hard every day. But it helps that we now have our own space to be able to grieve and deal with things in our own way. We were lucky enough to be able to staying with people, but it’s also nice to be in our own house.
Volunteers along with St. Vincent de Paul provided cabinets for the kitchen, wood for the addition, a “house in a box” to furnish the house and just general support.
“The volunteers, they were there every day,” Shane Bryant said. “Volunteers helped make this possible.
“It restores your faith in humanity for sure,” Tiffany Bryant added. “It has been a blessing. (Saint Vincent de Paul) has just been there for us, he helped us through it all. Barbara called and we heard many people from there watching us, see if we needed anything and we were always there. They were only a text or a phone call away.
“I don’t think we would even be where we are or here” in the house, which they moved into in April, she said. “There’s just no way.”
Now, as they settle in, they’ve “brought new life into the home” with their brand new grandson, Kailo, born to daughter Kaylynn, Tiffany Bryant said.
“He brought such joy,” she said. “He wrapped us all around his finger.”
“He definitely made us fall in love with him,” added Chasity Bryant.
And, more importantly, they are together like a family.
“It feels more like home,” said Tiffany Bryant. “It’s not because we’re not all together, but then again, we are.”
Jane McCarson said she and her family expected there to be water around their home as torrential downpours continued throughout the night, but she never anticipated what happened.
At 6:30 a.m. that morning, “the water was already surrounding our house,” when her husband, Jerry, came to pick her up, McCarson said. “I was scared. My heart was pounding.”
Although they were able to get to safety, their house was swept away.
“It was slammed against the trees, completely knocked out its foundation,” McCarson explained.
But, thanks to Jerry and the help of family and friends, they were able to salvage parts of the house, including several windows, wood, the tin roof and more, and were soon able to build a tiny house. on their property.
“I had so much anxiety,” McCarson said. “When (Jerry) started building here, I didn’t want to live here. I wanted to leave.”
But she found strength in her faith.
“I came here when we were building it, and on the posts and on the steps I wrote Bible verse after Bible verse just to give me peace in this house,” some of which can still be seen, McCarson said. “It really helps.”
Several people stepped up, including family and friends, to contribute financially and St. Vincent de Paul, who helped them finish the kitchen cabinets and the upstairs ramp, and provided them with a microwave, stove and refrigerator. Additionally, St. Vincent de Paul gave them gift cards so they could visit their daughter in Michigan at Christmas.
More than 70 of the 107 cases St. Vincent de Paul has helped are closed, but about 30 homes still need help, and Hooper and the rest of the flood relief committee aren’t slowing down.
For Hooper and Bozman, the year they had changed their lives just as much as those they helped.
“It’s beyond happy you feel for them,” Hooper said of those who are back home and thriving. “Each case is different; each person is different. In every situation, you just have to step in and let the Holy Spirit guide you.
Peterson is on the staff of the Tennessee Register, the newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.