Donations for tornado victims pile high in Mayfield, Kentucky


Sophie Whitten | @swhittenphotography

William Vinson shovels debris from the road Dec. 18, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky.

Driving south on U.S. Highway 45 over the hill into Mayfield, Kentucky, the town appears to have collapsed in on itself into a pile of wood, bricks and metal scraps in the aftermath of the Dec. 10 tornado. 

Downed power lines lay across streets and yards, clothes and shoes hang from tree limbs, cars sit upside down on heaps  of rubble, glass and debris litter hollow building floors, and bicycles, toys, and the remaining pieces of normal life peek out from underneath strewn branches and collapsed homes. 

From a distance, Mayfield on a recent Saturday seemed like a ghost town, demolished by the tornado; however, with a closer look, it became clear the  town was filled with people in the grips of hope, overflowing with an abundance of love and compassion for one another. 


In the midst of the debris, volunteers stood on nearly every street corner cooking hot meals, handing out cases of water, filling up cans of gas, or giving directions to relief centers. Cars stopped for pedestrians walking on sidewalks to offer clothes, food, and blankets, while disaster relief organizations drove through town to bring help to those who were unable to leave their homes. 

Darrick Holloman, a pastor at High Point Baptist Church in Mayfield said there were an overwhelming amount of donations immediately following the tornado. 

“I spend a lot of my time returning phone calls and returning texts, mostly from generous churches, ministries, businesses,” Holloman said. “You talk to somebody, I don’t know if he’s a CEO, but a very important person at a corporation who says, ‘I have six semi trailers coming your way, what do you want on it?’”

High Point Baptist Church decided it could best help the community through serving hot meals to people affected by the storms. With the help of two organizations called Giving Bak and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the church has served more than  15,000 meals since Monday, Dec. 13. 

“I got in contact with [Giving Bak] and they said, ‘Hey, we’re coming up, we’ve got capacity to feed 40,000 meals.’ And so they’ve come up and we’ve just run with that,” Holloman said. “We were bombarded on day one, Monday, and we did almost 1,500 meals, believe it, and that’s been our lowest day yet.” 

According to Holloman, as long as there is a need in the community, the church will continue to serve meals, and the community, in turn, has continued to donate food to the church to make that possible. 

“The only request I made a few days ago, I said, ‘We need bread.’ That’s my only thing. I didn’t even publicize it. I just hit a few churches,” Holloman said, pointing to a wall of bread in the back of the building. “First Baptist Church in Woodlawn, Illinois, loaded up a truck, and I had a connection there, a former pastor who used to be from West Kentucky, and they showed up and they’ve dumped all this bread […]They just showed up with this bread and that was unbelievable.”


The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and volunteers from High Point Baptist church spent hours organizing and sorting the donated bread. They, like many other organizations in town, have been flooded with more donations than they have volunteers to handle them. 

“There’s so much supplies that have come in from everywhere that almost all of Graves County is accepting nothing,” Holloman said. 

He said  many organizations have been redirecting donations to smaller, surrounding towns such as Dawson Springs, Kentucky, which were just as devastated by the tornado but aren’t receiving the same level of aid from the community. High Point Baptist Church has also been storing some supplies for when the next disaster strikes.

“We have way more of everything that we will ever need, so some of that has got to be stored away, what isn’t perishable, and it’s got to be ready to go to the next tornado or the next hurricane,” Holloman said. “That’s a good problem to have. I think one of the lessons going forward from this is how to respond to emergencies wisely. You can get too much stuff. You really can.”

The same situation occurred at the Mayfield-Graves County Animal Shelter, which took in more than sixty animals in the first few days after the tornado. 

Employee April Wright said the animal shelter has a wishlist and donation link on its Facebook page, but the shelter can no longer house the abundance of donations it has  received. 

“We’re recommending that if larger shelters in larger areas are wanting to send massive donations for them to find another shelter that has been impacted that’s not receiving the assistance that we are,” Wright said.

For now, the shelter put its focus on the animals and creating a safe environment for them to live while they wait for their owners. 

“We’re providing all necessities as far as food supplies, whatnot, but we are also housing animals that people can’t at the moment,” Wright said. “We’re boarding them until they can get a place to stay.” 

According to Wright, the animals are also microchipped and vaccinated when they are brought to the shelter. 

“Once their  owners are able to come get them, once they’re reunited, they’re already vaccinated, and have a microchip in the event something happens, they can be relocated,” Wright said. 

The volunteers at the shelter said they have seen their share of miracle stories come from the disaster. 

When John Hoback walked into the shelter looking for his dog Kye with his picture and a description, he was not optimistic that he would find him. However, once the volunteers checked his image, they recognized Hoback’s dog immediately. 

A few days prior, the volunteers at the animal shelter had found Kye lying in a puddle of water in a ditch by the road, cold and confused. According to one of the volunteers at the shelter, had Kye not been found when he was, he may not have survived the night, but the team rescued him from the ditch and brought him back to the shelter where he was taken care of and given a safe and warm place to wait for his family. 

“I’m just thrilled,” Hoback said. “I had some bad nights worrying about [Kye], driving in the rain looking for him. He’s great.” 

Hoback’s is one of many reunion stories, but there are still many displaced animals waiting to find their families. 

“If someone has a lost pet, we have a thread on our Facebook page that is specifically for lost and found pets,” Wright said. “We also are keeping found animals on that […] If one is found, contact us that way we can have the information. If they’re able to house it, we’re encouraging that, just making sure that they let us know, they make it known, that way we don’t have some random animal that someone’s looking for and we have no contact information.” 

Wright also urged people who would like to donate to the shelter or other organizations impacted by the tornado to be careful about where the donations are going. Scammers have been taking pictures of shelters or other organizations in town and posting them to social media where they raise money to keep for themselves. 

“Our donations that come directly to us, there’s a button on our Facebook page for donations. Facebook gives us 100% of all donations made through Facebook. Anybody that is wanting to make monetary donations, stick with that because there’s already been plenty of people that are trying to capitalize on our tragedy,” Wright said. 

The work in Mayfield is far from over. While the donations are overflowing in schools and churches –  homes and businesses are still flattened across town. 

“Those who want to help, have to think long term,” Holloman said. “There’s going to come a day, very soon, I’m told and I’ve already seen, that the cameras are going to be gone, and the food trucks on the road are going to be gone, and we’re not going to be in the news cycle, but the devastation is still here.”

Holloman said he is glad for the help from the surrounding communities but prays for the aid to continue through the winter and spring as the town begins to rebuild. 

“There’s a surge of help, which is excellent, nobody wants to turn down help, but my guess is in two months or three months, the needs are going to be rapidly changing,” Holloman said. “I’m hopeful that people’s hearts have been moved and have had an emotional experience by what they’ve seen. I need that heart to be moved when, in two months from now, I need it in the spring because that’s when things change, and we’re gonna need outside this community to help.”

Photo Editor Sophie Whitten can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @swhittenphotography.

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