Pews in the church’s sanctuary are sorted with various needs — from baby goods to paper towels and toiletries. The kitchen was filled to overflowing with city of Adairsville employees and recovery crews. A rear office has been reconfigured as a command center for Team Rubicon and organizers. Not even the parking lot was safe, with tractor-trailers of donations, shower trailers and grills parked in orderly fashion behind the building.
“This started the night of the storm when we were the only church with power in this area,” said Adairsville Church of God First Lady Joyce Coomer. “When we got through the wreckage from our home to here, we realized that we were going to need to provide something because there was such damage ... . We called just a little group of our workers together; they got bed clothing and things, food together just to take care of the ones that would come in.”
Saying she has been dubbed “operations manager,” Coomer said the church housed 14 the first night, bedding them down on pews and blankets.
“We realized then that this was going to be a massive effort, and the next morning, Bartow Disaster Recovery ... they came to us and said, ‘We’ve got to do a coalition,’” she said of the countywide church effort. “We all just stepped up to the plate — together — in a unified effort and began to get donations and groups and all kinds of things ready because we knew we had to feed people.”
Beginning Thursday, volunteers have distributed meals and goods from the church on the Bartow-Gordon County line off U.S. Highway 41. On Tuesday, the facility hosted a sit-down appreciation lunch for crews and first responders, something many haven’t enjoyed since the deadly twister tore through town last week.
Coomer said the system has offered meals each day since the weekend, including the three meals offered to roughly 1,500 volunteers on Saturday.
“As fast as food comes in, we are sending it out to community members who are trying to just live,” she said.
Those looking to assist came from across the Southeast, dishing up food and boxing meals. Coomer said donations of water and food had arrived by the trailer load.
Among those aiding Adairsville Church of God and the recovery effort is Team Rubicon, a volunteer nonprofit that utilizes the skills of military veterans to provide leadership and relief efforts after natural disasters.
Dee Clancy, Rubicon’s deputy volunteer coordinator, said the organization’s headquarters in California contacted her at her Nashville, Tenn., home within minutes of the Jan. 30 tornado.
“They got us in with [David Franklin with Bartow Christian Disaster Recovery]. Wherever we called, he happened to be there ... He was like, ‘Yes. You can come. We’d love to have you here,’” Clancy said.
The agency has had volunteers on the ground in Adairsville since Thursday, with numbers fluctuating between nine and 22, 15 of those military veterans.
Coomer said the efforts of the national organization has been a blessing.
“I just feel like God sent them,” she said. “... We thought, ‘If they can fight for our country, they can help us rebuild our city.’
“They organized the entire cleanup; they’ve helped us organize the food. Every system we are offering they trained us to do it.”
For each disaster, Team Rubicon addresses the community’s needs.
“Our role is different at each response. Normally, if we go to a response, we kind of determine what the needs are when we are there,” Clancy, a 10-year U.S. Navy veteran, said. “When we showed up here, we weren’t exactly sure what we were going to be doing. We just knew they said they needed help.”
Using technology the nonprofit deployed during the Superstorm Sandy recovery, Team Rubicon hit the streets of Adairsville Friday.
“The first thing we did, on Thursday, it was just meeting with [officials] ... ‘How can we help? Here is what we do. How can we be of assistance?’” Clancy said. “Friday, we actually sent teams out into the field with some really incredible technology we got from this company called Palantir. We used it up in Sandy. They actually have these handhelds — they’re telephones — that can take pictures and send assessments, so they went out and assessed all of the damaged areas. That handheld transmits back to a laptop that runs the Palantir software and it actually can create a map of, in this case, the damaged area. Friday was pretty much damage-assessment day.”
On Saturday, Rubicon coordinated the massive volunteer effort, managing the more than 1,600 people who showed up to assist.
“Some of them were registered here at this site, some of them were registered at [NorthPointe Church] ... and then there were a lot of people that just showed up out at sites that didn’t even come here to register,” Clancy said. “... But our people were actually team leaders. We deployed them with anywhere between 40 and 80 volunteers each, and they just went out and took care of what they could take care of. On Saturday, at the end of the day, we estimated we had about probably 60 percent of the debris removed. ... And then we did the same thing again on Sunday. On Sunday, we had somewhere around 500 volunteers, same exact operation.”
“We’ve found that disaster situations are very similar to what our military experience while at war: chaotic environment, unstable populations, limited resources, horrific sights, sounds and smells. The skills cultivated on the battlefield — emergency medicine, risk assessment and mitigation, teamwork and decisive leadership — are invaluable in disaster zones,” said Kristin Robinson, public relations manager for Team Rubicon.
With Team Rubicon planning to be completely removed by weekend’s end, recovery efforts will begin to shift.
“One of the focuses we are going to shift to is those who are unemployed because of the Daiki company destruction and the business owners along that strip who were terribly affected and lost their businesses because that’s jobs we’re losing in our community. We are going to shift our focus to help business people to get on their feet,” Coomer said. “We are also going out [this] morning to assess the human needs. ... What we are trying to do is, ... we have teams of people going in the community tomorrow to assess their felt needs: Are you going to stay in this house? Are you going to move? What is your plan? How can we bring people in to help you?”
And with no end in sight, Coomer said the facility will continue to operate as a recovery center as long as needed.
“We didn’t expect [to be here] this long,” she said. “We’re not planning it — we’re here, we gotta live here. We want our community back in order, and whatever we have to do, whoever we have to work with, we want to stay until it’s finished.”
To offer assistance or donations, contact NorthPointe Church, 30 Orchard Road, Adairsville, 770-387-8135, or Adairsville Church of God, 297 Old Dixie Highway N.W., Adairsville, 770-773-3264.