By GARY POPP
Hot dogs and potato chips.
That was the meal tornado survivor Sandra Coy had planned for Thanksgiving dinner until she and her family were invited to share a meal at St. Francis Xavier Church on Thursday afternoon.
Coy, 47, and her fiancé John Watson, 67, of Henryville, were part of a small group of storm survivors who attended the bountiful spread of Thanksgiving fixings in the church’s basement hall. The event was sponsored by the church and organized by March2Recovery, a disaster-relief organization formed shortly after the March 2 tornadoes left hundreds of Henryville and Southern Indiana residents in need.
Volunteers came together Thursday morning to prepare the feast, decorate the hall and welcome the survivors.
As volunteers spread tablecloths, simmered gravy and prepared cranberry sauce in the church’s kitchen area, a stream of area families dropped off pies, turkeys and other Thanksgiving favorites to add to the dinner.
Coy said her home has been powered by a generator since the EF-4 tornado struck and that cooking a Thanksgiving meal would have been too difficult. She and Watson sought refuge from the storm in the bathroom of their home, after watching the funnel cloud slice through the neighborhood from their bedroom window.
“It was the wildest thing I have ever been in my life,” she said. “It sounded like a freight train.”
The tornado damaged the home’s roof, siding and windows, Coy said.
Watson, who has lived in the home damaged by the storm for 40 years, said he tried to keep Coy calm as the tornado approached their property.
“I felt the house shaking, she [Coy] grabbed my arm and said, ‘Let’s get in the bath tub,’” he said.
Watson said the funnel cloud approached and left in only a few seconds, but the fist-sized hail and heavy winds that followed did even more do damage to their home.
Coy and Watson, like others in Henryville, have not yet returned to the everyday normalcy prior to the tornado and still depend on the helping hands of others.
“They have helped so much,” Coy said of the volunteer efforts that have assisted in her family coping with its losses caused by the tornado. “It just shows how a community can pull together.”
Coy said she and her family have taken steps to remain positive since March 2 and appreciate what the storm did not take from them.
“Knowing that I could have died easily that day just made me love even more,” she said. “It opened my eyes even more. We are just so grateful each and every day.”
She said she will be forever thankful to the work of March2Recovery, March of Dimes, St. Francis Xavier Church and community members.
“The smiles and the love that you feel are just wonderful,” Coy said, between bites of pie. “And, the food is great.”
Watson said the tornado is something he will never forget, but he chooses not to focus on how the storm disrupted his life.
“I’ve tried not to let it keep me from doing anything I want to do,” he said.
He and the other survivors were able to take some time away from their still damaged homes during the Thanksgiving meal.
“It is the most wonderful thing you have ever seen,” he said of the of support that went into the planning and preparation of the church’s Thanksgiving meal. “It is beautiful that they would do that for us.”
Watson gave special thanks to the church’s pastor, the Rev. Steven Schaftlein.
“The father — you would be amazed how much he helps the community, what he does for everybody. He is a wonderful man. You can’t beat him.”
Schaftlein was one of five volunteers who arrived at the church Thursday morning to make a Thanksgiving meal possible for the tornado survivors. He said the meal was quickly organized in the past several weeks, and survivors were contacted directly and announcements of the meal were made during recent services at St. Francis Xavier.
“Especially the [survivors] who are still in pretty bleak housing at this point, we wanted to give them a comfortable place to have a Thanksgiving meal.” Schaftlein said.
He said the dinner was just another opportunity to give assistance to those in the community.
“This is what we are supposed to be about,” he said. “It is what Jesus taught us — to be a neighbor to those who are strangers, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked. “
He said the preparation of the Thanksgiving and the countless other actions of those who have providing assistance since the storm is as simple as putting practice into action.
“It is just walking the talk,” he said.