Donations poured into the Mayfield-Graves County Fairgrounds immediately after the December tornadoes as it quickly became a rallying point for the community, serving as a place where people could pick up vital supplies following the aftermath. of a disaster that left dozens dead and hundreds homeless.
Now, nearly seven months later, it is ceasing operations as a donation center.
Sandra Delk found herself in the middle of it all. She worked at the fairgrounds for 24 years overseeing building rentals and event programming, but since the storms has been managing donations and other storm recovery initiatives on the ground.
“When I woke up this Saturday morning, the first thing I always do is pick up my phone and start surfing Facebook and stuff, and I saw that Mayfield was really touched,” Delk said. “The first thing I thought of was the carnival. Is there anything left?
Delk remembers seeing broken trees like toothpicks and debris on the road as she drove to the fairgrounds that morning. When she arrived, the buildings were still standing, but none of the utilities were working. She tried to get downtown afterwards, but found she couldn’t.
Then the phone started ringing.
“I started getting phone calls and people were like, ‘Okay, we’re bringing trucks, where are they from?’ and I’m like, ‘It’s coming here,'” Delk said.
The donations were smaller and local at first, but within days larger donations from further afield began to arrive. Delk spent the night in his car at the fairgrounds for those first few nights because there was no security to keep things safe.
In those days, fairgrounds were open 24 hours a day to collect donations as they came and help people as they came.
Fairground volunteers distributed coats and heaters during the cold days following the December tornado and now, seven months later, they are distributing summer clothes and fans.
“We just changed with everything. We changed this building so many times, it’s no fun, to make it work, and we finally found a good system,” Delk said. “People enjoyed it, and please don’t get me wrong, they all enjoyed it and they were all very sad that we were closing.”
The fairgrounds closed its donation and supply operations on June 30. They stopped distributing food at the end of May and they never handled monetary donations, instead guiding people to other organizations better equipped to handle it. Now they are gearing up for a back-to-school event in July.
Delk said the closure of the donation center also allows the fairgrounds to return to some of the community events they have held in the past.
“Our volunteers here – I mean, I’ve been here a long time – but some of them have been here since the end of December and that’s a long time for people to pretty much give up their lives to be here,” said Delk said. .
Kristin King served as the center’s volunteer coordinator and sits on the local parks board. At first, King dealt with people passing through the fairgrounds and found translators for survivors facing a language barrier before taking on a larger role.
“Around the middle of the first week, I realized that the two people who were going to the command center weren’t from here and after the Christmas holidays they wouldn’t be there,” King said. . “I said, ‘Well, somebody’s got to go,’ and as the parks board rep for the fairgrounds and all, I thought, ‘Well, I can do this.
King described his role as being more administrative, assisting Delk when needed, unloading trucks, tracking volunteer hours, and working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
King’s husband has served more than 22 years in the military, and when he said something about how long she was gone, she described it to him as her deployment.
“This is my deployment. I’m called to duty and serving where I know God wants me to be right now and that’s going to take six or eight months or more,” King said.
For Delk, King and the other volunteers, those who work and use the fairgrounds have become family, which makes the closure a bit sad.
Once the fairgrounds complete their back-to-school event, King plans to work on case management with area officials. long-term recovery group.
“I think one thing you really see in a disaster is how much the community comes together, all working together, all working on this one mission to help each other,” King said. “Hopefully it will be a lasting thing and when things happen, or when we need events and things, people will respond more readily.”
Colleen Alexander and Kim Moyers have been working with King and Delk at the fairgrounds for months. Both women have been in the Mayfield community for several years. Moyers said getting to this job was a blessing, but it was also stressful.
“The emotions at the start were really tough because being one of the first people they saw entering the fair, I heard a lot of stories,” Moyers said. “Then I’m just grateful that we were able to help and I’m very grateful to all the people from out of state who came to help us help people, who sent all the supplies.”
Both Alexander and Delk have found that their experiences at the fairground have brought them closer to other volunteers.
” We are a family. We have a whole new family here, a carnival family,” Delk said. “It was great to sit there and be able to do something that you’ve never been able to do before and I think we all came out better because of it.”