story by Kim Souza
Two Northwest Arkansas corporate giants are among the first to mobilize their troops to help when a natural disaster damages a community. That’s exactly what happened within hours of the Sunday night (April 27) tornado damage in central Arkansas and other parts of the country.
With 95% of the U.S. population living within 15 miles of a Walmart Store, anytime weather disaster strikes it’s likely the retail titan will see some impact.
The tornadic storms that cut a path across the Midwest on Sunday directly impacted 11 Wal-Mart workers — the majority of those in central Arkansas with others in Baxter Springs, Kansas and Miami, Okla. Ten of those lost their homes and/or their vehicles. One Walmart worker tragically lost two grandchildren in the storm, according to Dianna Gee, corporate spokeswoman with Wal-Mart Stores.
“We are providing crisis counseling and other services to our associates who were victims of these storms. This is a top priority. Within an hour of the storms near Vilonia last night we had store managers in that surrounding area coordinating aid. Today store managers in Vilonia are going grid to grid trying to locate unaccounted for associates,” Gee said.
Wal-Mart store managers on Sunday night began loading pallets of donations such as in water, snacks, tarps, batteries and flashlights for survivors and first responders.
“Today, we are working closely with the American Red Cross to donate two truckloads of water today between 2 and 3 this afternoon in Vilonia and Mayflower,” Gee said.
MEALS THAT MATTER
Tyson Foods arrived on the scene in Mayflower on Monday (April 28) after leaving Northwest Arkansas with two trailers of food. Company workers plan to cook three meals a day for local relief workers and victims as long as they are needed.
“Our ‘Meals that Matter’ relief effort is setting up at the high school in Mayflower, our team members from neighboring Clarksville, Dardanelle, Texarkana and North Little Rock are bringing grills and smokers and helping to prepare what will be three meals a day – starting with dinner this evening,”said Krista Cupp, Tyson Foods spokeswoman.
She said Tyson Foods employs 26,000 in Arkansas and thankfully none have reported losses.
“We know it takes time for these communities to recover. We stayed in Joplin for three weeks providing hot meals. Last year, we were in Moore, Okla., for two weeks. I am not sure how long Central Arkansas will need us, but we will stay as long as needed,” Cupp said. Last year in Moore, Okla., Tyson Foods said it provided 80,000 meals over the two week period.
One lesson Cupp said Tyson has learned is that ice is often an overlooked commodity during disaster aftermaths.
“We will be providing ice to the victims and others who are without electricity, so they can keep their perishable foods from ruining. Our nearby facilities make plenty of ice and they will be sharing it with those in need,” Cupp said.
Rick Harvey, communication specialist for the American Red Cross in Arkansas, said six volunteers from Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith left Monday morning with two mobile units headed for central Arkansas.
“All of the mobile units in the state are headed that way. We are running two shelters, one in Vilonia and one in Conway, and supporting four other shelters already open in Mayflower and the surrounding area,” Harvey said.
The Red Cross also will serve three meals a day, and provide snacks and water in conjunction with corporate aid flowing into the region. Harvey said volunteers are streaming in from Texas and surrounding states to help with the clean up.
He said citizens who want to give blood can seek out those opportunities on the Red Cross website.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued a statement Monday afternoon saying that phony charities have already sought to take advantage of the storm damage.
“At least one scam charity was identified on a crowd-funding website where people can solicit donations for any purpose,” noted the McDaniel statement.
McDaniel’s office provided the following five tips on how to ensure donations get to where they are the most needed.
Here are five ways to make sure storm-relief donations go to those who need it most:
• Confirm the validity of the charity. Go to ArkansasAG.gov for a list of those charities registered with the state of Arkansas.
• Be cautious of donating to sites promoted solely through social media.
• Double-check crowd-funding sites. These accounts are easy for scammers to create.
• Give to a trusted organization. Local churches and relief groups like the American Red Cross and Salvation Army are already on the ground helping those affected.
• Make donations through a secure website. A simple way to check for security is to make sure that “https” is listed in the URL (web address).