On Sunday March 3rd, our community of Smiths Station, and neighboring communities to the West and East of us experienced terror, devastation and loss. In the aftermath of an EF4 tornado, and numerous other small cell tornadoes (each with their own intensity,) we gather together to pick of the pieces, while comforting those that grieve the loss of loved ones, whole families, homes and livelihoods. The news of this tragedy has been far reaching and inescapable due to National News coverage, for which we are immensely appreciative. Many reporters, news crews and notable personalities have carried, across the clock, news coverage relating these events to the rest of the country at large, since the storm. Before, during and after, it has been the work of local meteorologists and news anchors to keep us informed and aware; and because of their efforts countless lives have been spared. For 68.8 miles the tornado plowed across East Alabama, eventually lifting beyond Tabolton, Georgia, claiming 23 lives in one East Alabama community known as Beauregard, a township near Auburn, Alabama. On Wednesday March 6th, the search for the missing concluded. All have been accounted for. The loss of life stands at 23. A vigil will be held on Friday March 8th at Salem A.M.E.

In this part of Alabama, everyone knows or knew someone. Everyone has a neighbor who needs a roof, a warm meal or simply a shoulder upon which to lean.

Before National Assistance could be granted, neighbors were digging out neighbors. People were driving around with windows down taking roll waving the all clear, sighs of relief, and stopping to hug one another amid the rubble.

At the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, A Center for Cultural Arts we set to work determining ways to help those in need, offering meals, a place to sleep, a cup of coffee, and a safe place to any child or parent in need. On Monday, we placed a note on the door that we would be in and out throughout the day. We went to many stores and bought numerous things from safety glasses, and gloves to diapers and toiletries. On Monday morning, the calls came in. One called after following posts online related to the tragedy. He wanted to lend a hand, by sending funds, asking us if we could personally deliver items to people in need. The answer was, YES. Throughout the day, we deliver goods to Station #1 Smiths Station Fire Dept, then in the evening we delivered dinner to two families, then more supplies to Opelika area hotels who where preparing to host victims from the nearby Beauregard community. Late Tuesday night, I received a call explaining that in Smiths Station, there was a family who lost multiple homes, in need of immediate aid. On Wednesday, friends from out of state, called wanting to lend a hand. They, too, donated funds. We went to stores again collecting items, and distributed them. Today is Thursday, March 7th. I’ve just spoken with someone who is looking after 9 individuals who have been moved after their homes either collapsed or were determined uninhabitable. We are distributing items and funds to them to help them deal with current uncertainty and financial strain.

West Smiths Station Elementary School was hit hard by the storm, suffering loss to a roof, multiple units, and the playground. As one of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, A Center for Cultural Arts satellite studio schools, we are working closely to lend a hand to school faculty, and students over the coming weeks.

The Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, A Center for Cultural Arts continues to provide A Place of Comfort for anyone in need of a place to land, a should to lean on, a cup of coffee or tea, and as always a place for children and parents to take a small break with a free, all expense paid art activity. Through daily classes, we comfort and encourage and continue to ask “Do you know of anyone with a need?”

-Sarah West