On the night of December 10, 2021, a storm cell engulfed the 7 square miles that make up the city of Mayfield in western Kentucky. The cell unleashed an EF4 tornado that uprooted buildings, vehicles, and the lives of the 10,000 residents.
Dozens did not survive the violent storm. Many who did survive were left with only the shirts on their backs and a feeling of helplessness as even access to clean water was hindered.
From the rubble, though, small seedlings of hope took root as the hearts of fellow Kentuckians and people from around the world poured out for those impacted. Notre Dame Sisters Maria Francine and Anita Marie Stacy were among those whose hearts were touched and who assisted with outreach.
On December 14, Sr. Maria Francine Stacy, a Spanish teacher at Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, KY, received a message from the Spanish National Honor Society. It was a request from Lauran Young, an ESOL teacher in Mayfield schools, asking for translators at the tornado relief efforts.
After Srs. Maria Francine and Anita Marie offered their support, they wondered, “Can we stay overnight?” It is a five-hour drive to Mayfield from Northern Kentucky. Hotels, if any, would be occupied, principally by the families the Red Cross settled after their homes were destroyed. Looking at the map, there were few cities close to rural Mayfield, home to a large percentage of Spanish-speaking agricultural workers. About 50 minutes north of Mayfield is Eddyville. This rang a bell. The sisters knew of the city as Sr. Dolores Giblin and other sisters had stayed there when they did their yearly trip to the federal penitentiary. Now, this is what seemed to be the work of the Spirit. Sr. Maria Francine found one church in Eddyville and called that Friday. The pastor said he had two rectories and they could stay overnight in one. A quick and perfect solution.
When the sisters arrived at Mayfield High School on December 20, they saw a gym that was completely rearranged. The bleachers held donated clothes: first row, women’s small, second row, women’s medium and so on. The floor of the gym had rows of tables with supplies, including food, water, and hygiene items. The superintendent, assistant superintendent, teachers and volunteers checked in people by recording names and addresses. All were allowed to take as much as they needed from the supplies.
The sisters arranged and replenished items until Lauran called them to the middle school for the Christmas market. There Sr. Maria Francine helped Latino families go “Christmas shopping.”
Each child could fill a stocking and choose two stuffed animals, three books, a bike or scooter, a ball, and three crafts, and go to the gym for more toys.
Several children stood out to Sr. Maria Francine, who shared, “One girl’s face beamed as she refused to get off of her new bike! Even though she could go to other stations for presents, she was so happy to have a bike of her own.
“Another little girl had a new friend, a small doll, that she hugged so tightly we thought they would be glued together forever.”
Sr. Anita Marie helped the families pack and carry the gifts. At the end of the line, the family could pick from a variety of gift cards.
Among the families was a woman with a tiny, precious baby. She was ushered into a side room and given diapers, clothes, a car seat, whatever was needed for the baby.
Sr. Anita Marie remarked, “I am sure the Christ Child was smiling down and saying, ‘Look, Mom, this is the real spirit of Christmas – not giving just gifts, but personal time and generous love.’”
As more translators came to help in the middle school, Srs. Maria Francine and Anita Marie returned to the high school to translate at the Red Cross station. On the way, they were stopped while a team of utility workers put up an electric wire, something sorely needed in the area.
At the Red Cross station, people waited in a long line to report the damages their houses had sustained. Some of them the Red Cross might be able to help and others, not. It depended on the extent of the damage and if the dwelling was inhabitable or not.
In addition to the material donations, the Red Cross gave $1,500 vouchers for those who qualified for immediate assistance. They also directed residents to federal aid.
Sr. Maria Francine noted, “The greatest need for everyone at the Red Cross station was water and electricity. Some people stayed in their homes without these necessities and expected to do so for at least three weeks.”
As the sisters completed their service and Murray State University graduates arrived to help, Srs. Maria Francine and Anita Marie headed for home, reflecting on all they had seen.
Sr. Anita Marie said, “There were volunteers, particularly from the local community, who mobilized quickly and gave selflessly. Those who received help were extremely grateful. So many of those affected showed consideration for their neighbors and only took what they needed, not a surplus.”
“Mayfield, a rather simple rural community, felt the eyes of the country upon them and hopefully felt its support,” said Sr. Maria Francine. “The Red Cross volunteers were from Idaho, Arizona, D.C. and California. One group came from New York with truckloads of items. They commited to ten days, keeping them from their own families at Christmas.”
This was not the Christmas that Mayfield had chosen, but there was a very real glimmer of the Christmas spirit in the hands and hearts that were open to help them.