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United Way chapters continuing to support tornado recovery throughout western Ky.

Residents sort through debris in the aftermath of a tornado that hit Muhlenberg County on Dec. 10, 20210.
Residents sort through debris in the aftermath of a tornado that hit Muhlenberg County on Dec. 10, 20210.

Groups like the United Way of Kentucky are continuing to support the progress communities are making as recovery efforts continue nearly nine months after the December tornado outbreak.

Since December, United Way has raised over $5 million to support disaster recovery in western and central Kentucky. United Way of Kentucky President Kevin Middleton said there were seven United Way regions impacted by the storms and the state level organization was responsible for coming up with a way to disburse the funds. Their decision-making process was partly based on Federal Emergency Management Agency application data.

Middleton said, so far, over $2.1 million dollars have gone out to local United Way groups and all of the funds raised will go to the recovery process.

“We know that long term recovery takes years. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and offering out [an] immediate influx of dollars to support these communities when we did has allowed them to get started on the work,” Middleton said. “We also have remaining resources that will be committed to the long term recovery until that last door is hung, until the communities are fully restored.”

The United Way of Kentucky has been working alongside a variety of other nonprofit and volunteer organizations to help with the recovery process, including local long-term recovery groups. Some of the regional United Way organizations helping with tornado recovery efforts include United Way of Paducah-McCracken County, United Way of the Coalfield and United Way of the Pennyrile.

“Our local United Way representatives are undoubtedly the voices on the ground who are seeing the work being done day after day,” Middleton said. “They have the hands-on vision of what the long term recovery group leadership is hoping to accomplish on behalf of families.”

Middleton said the group feels good about how they’ve navigated the recovery process so far.

“I think in any disaster scenario it's important to always continue to reflect,” Middleton said. “Are we doing this as efficiently as we can to ensure that we are helping as many people as possible?”

United Way of Paducah-McCracken County has been helping in Fulton, Hickman, Graves and Marshall counties with the recovery process. Betsy Burkeen is the CEO of the chapter. She said the group has given out $250,000 on two occasions so far in the recovery process — once to the Mayfield Rotary Club and once to Camp Graves.

“We're just going to continue to work with these communities and helping people to restore and regain their lives prior to the tornado,” Burkeen said. “We have a committee in each county [made up of] of community leaders that are helping to make these allocation decisions “

Don Howerton is the executive director of the United Way of the Coalfield, which serves Hopkins and Muhlenberg counties. He said the biggest need in the area the local United Way could support was helping get storage for goods needed for recovery.

“The United Ways … are all working, facing the same issues,” Howerton said. “We're all trying to help those survivors of the tornadoes and anything that anyone wanted to do to support the United Ways would help, long-term, the communities in multiple ways.”

The United Way of the Pennyrile serves Christian, Caldwell, Todd and Trigg counties. Betsy Bond is the executive director of the group and she said this disaster recovery effort is new territory for the group.

“Some of us have not done this before and so it's really a learning experience,” Bond said. “The main thing is to give people what they need as soon as possible.”

The group is also working with efforts in Lyon County to help with the recovery process. The United Way of the Pennyrile is working with long-term recovery groups to help meet the needs of the members of their community, though she acknowledges that the road to recovery is a long one.

“Once the FEMA payments are through, once insurance has paid and once a lot of the short term help is exhausted, that's where we come in and that's where the long-term recovery group comes in,” Bond said. “It's going to take a year or so just to find out what the needs are and start paying for those needs as they happen. You can't give someone money two weeks after the tornado for a house they’re going to have to build in six months, so it's going to take a while.”

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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