News of this month’s deadly tornado outbreak hitting Kentucky and other states sent shockwaves of sorrow across the nation. But it also sparked a spontaneous outpouring of Christmas spirit in many far-flung communities, including Dorchester County.
Seeing families tragically impacted so close to Christmas struck a nerve among many preparing for their own holiday, spurring an overwhelming desire to help.
Eddie James, vice president of Hurlock Trucking Company Koski Enterprises, was among those finding it impossible to sit back while others were suffering.
James happened to view a TikTok video posted by Battle Buddy Response Team, a Green Castle, Pennsylvania-based veterans’ aid group, requesting a truck to help transport medical and other supplies to the ravaged area. He reached out right away to Samuel Rock, the group’s founder, to offer one of Koski’s large trucks, adding that he’d be riding along to help with whatever was needed in Kentucky, even cutting up and clearing trees.
Since starting in 2017, Battle Buddy Response Team has advocated for veterans and stepped in to provide personal assistance. But the group has also mobilized following several significant national events with emergency rapid response missions. They were primed to do so again once a large enough vehicle was found.
In addition to medical supplies, the group had a 10x30-foot storage unit full of COVID safety materials to offer; meanwhile, local people were donating a variety of goods, from toys, to coffeepots, even brand-new toasters, Rock noted.
Next, James alerted Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Bill Christopher, who posted Facebook and Instagram announcements calling for donations before the Koski truck departed for Kentucky early on Friday, Dec. 17. The social media postings received 5,000 hits, Christopher later reported. The Chamber’s High Street office was offered as one of three donation drop-off points.
Chamber Member Services Manager Robin Marie Burton, a member of Immanuel United Church of Christ, suggested to Rev. Dale Krotee that a truck parked at the church’s Route 50 and Whitehall Road location would make a highly visible drop-off spot. Krotee and others agreed, and parishioners along with community volunteers pitched in all day Wednesday and Thursday, graciously greeting the steady stream of cars pulling up, accepting endless bags and boxes that filled the truck - prompting Koski to send out a second vehicle.
At Koski headquarters on Williamsburg Road, donations also poured in as warehouse crew loaded pallets laden with bottled water, soup and other contributions from law enforcement, area businesses and individuals.
James’ daughter, Koski CFO Caitlin Cannon, tried to recall all the items people had brought, including canned goods, formula, mouthwash, adult diapers, can openers, clothes, Christmas decorations and little holiday bags, glasses, hats, and masks, detergent, a car seat, stroller, pack-and-play portable play yard, baby food pouches, juice, and cartons of powdered milk.
“Someone even brought some guinea pig food,” Cannon recalled.
The wide variety of donations were sorted and then “palletized” with protective clear material. Shipping and receiving staffer Kathy Willey helped supervise her Koski colleague’s dedicated 7-year-old twins, Quinton and Weston Lefevre, who tirelessly tackled the task of wrapping and taping, as 2-year-old sister Sofia and her doll happily provided moral support.
Along with the Lefevre youngsters, other county children stepped up to help others they’d never met. Marybeth Blake, principal of Warwick Elementary School in Secretary, delivered handwritten cards from its students offering caring wishes.
Blake, after seeing the online posting about Koski’s truck heading to Kentucky, asked Beth Wilson of the Board of Education for permission to donate the school’s extra cases of bottled water. Wilson replied, “Absolutely.” But Blake decided to ask her students to give of themselves, as well.
“At the elementary level, empathy is one of the important things we focus on,” Blake noted. Just as she, herself, was moved by the especially tragic timing of the tornado, she felt that sharing the news with the children offered an opportunity for them to cultivate empathy. If the students wrote cards of comfort, she promised to personally deliver them to the Kentucky-bound truck. When she did, her uncle, Immanuel congregant Jock Luthy, who’d helped continuously with the drop-off effort at the church, happily received them.
While each youngster wrote their own card, Blake provided sentence starters to help ensure that all the messages were positive and uplifting. “I went through every single card before carrying to the truck, just to make sure,” she added.
Blake recalled being principal at Sandy Hill Elementary School during another tragic December day in 2012, when 26 people, including 20 children, were struck down by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. She never forgot how moved she was to receive a card from a complete stranger across the country, meant to convey comfort and caring to the principal of Sandy Hook.
Although she redirected the message to its intended recipient, the underlying message of how powerful simple words of caring can be stayed with her, inspiring her to pay it forward.
Calling the rapidly organized countywide response “totally a team effort,” Christopher commended community volunteers for stepping up to help collect the donations, which far exceeded expectations.
“The focus should really be on Koski Enterprises, who got everything started and were willing to go into harm’s way,” he said. “As bad as things have been and still are in some ways, with people struggling and not seeing eye to eye, this shows that by and large, when it really matters, people still do care about each other,” he added.
All those involved in the Dorchester County effort had nothing but words of praise for local law enforcement agencies, including the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Department, whose members contributed supplies and stepped up to help in many other ways. Additionally, state troopers from Maryland, Tennessee and several other states agreed to serve as official escorts for the Battle Buddy Response Team convoy to safely expedite their mission.
With the Koski vehicles set to pick up supplies in Green Castle, Pennsylvania, before making their way to Kentucky, the deadline for submitting donations had to be closed late Thursday afternoon. Yet, people continued calling the company, the church and the Chamber still wanting to give to those in need, and James didn’t rule out a second trip.
For more information about the Dorchester County Kentucky assistance effort, call Koski Enterprises at 410-943-0070, visit the Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce Facebook page or call 410-228-3575. To learn about Battle Buddy Response Team Inc., visit battlebuddyresponseteam.org.