On an abnormally warm December night in the United States, a series of devastating tornadoes whipped through dozens of communities in the states of Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, and Indiana. The tornadoes ripped through homes and businesses, pulled powerlines straight from the ground, and spread debris miles around—leaving destruction in their wake.

Lions unload supplies“It looked horrific; it looked like a bomb had gone off,” said Council Chairperson Judge Kevin Bishop of Mayfield, Kentucky, after witnessing the devastation of his community, including his Graves County Courthouse built in 1888, left without a roof and a clocktower. During the night of the storm, he hunkered down with his loved ones and remembered the fear and uncertainty before the tornado hit his community.

The twister that hit Mayfield on December 10, 2021, was one of the longest on the ground in Kentucky’s history. The base of the tornado was anywhere between one half-mile wide to one mile wide, and it traveled for nearly 250 miles, resulting in significant damage, particularly in the western Kentucky communities of Mayfield, Dawson Springs, Benton, and Bremen.

More than 80 people lost their lives and thousands of properties were destroyed or partially destroyed, including homes and businesses, leaving people without a home or place of employment. In Mayfield alone, nine people lost their lives at the Mayfield Candle Factory, which employed more than 250 local workers, after the tornado ripped through the facility.

Lions stand in front of Mayfield muralLuckily, when natural disasters—like tornadoes—strike, Lions are the first to offer help. Lions across the country in Pennsylvania, Oregon, Ohio, New York, and Connecticut helped their fellow Lions in their time of great need. To magnify their impact and to support their struggling community, Lions in Kentucky turned to the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) for help. LCIF immediately awarded a US$20,000 grant to the Lions in Kentucky, since most of the damage and deaths occurred in the state.

LCIF also awarded an additional US$100,000 grant, which can be used to provide relief to the multiple-affected states where at least 30 out-of-season tornadoes touched down.

“I have been a Lion for long time and our motto is that “we serve,” but until the Lions serve your community, you don’t know what these words really mean,” Bishop said.

Lions lending a hand on the ground                       

Immediately, Lions across the country started calling in and asking how they could help. Many Lions sent financial donations, and Lions even traveled to Kentucky to help clean up, including Pennsylvania Lions.  Past District Governor Dennis Cope was one of the Lions that traveled to Kentucky with 13 fellow Pennsylvania Lions to deliver more than US$250,000 worth of food and supplies in January 2022.

“You don’t understand the devastation of a tornado and the impact on a community until you see it in person,” Cope said.

Alongside the Pennsylvania Lions, Immediate Past International President Douglas X. Alexander, now LCIF chairperson, visited some of the tornado-damaged towns, including Mayfield.

“I was not surprised to see so many Lions join in helping these people in need. It’s what we do,” Alexander said. “Where there’s a need, there’s a Lion. And we do it willingly, not looking for anything in return. It’s about service; giving our service from the heart.”

In response to the overwhelming need, Lions started working with Kentucky Emergency Management to help distribute items from food to blankets.

District Governor Gary Logan of Kentucky said Lions also set up two warehouses to help distribute goods with support of fellow Lions across the country.

Since many people lost electricity after the storm, the LCIF grant funds were used to buy generators, propane heaters, and carbon dioxide detectors. Many of the power lines were damaged from the tornadoes and needed to be reinstalled by the power companies. In some cases, power was not restored for a month, and the generators helped heat people’s homes during the cold winter months.

“The needs of the Mayfield and Graves County communities in path of this horrific tornado are going to be long-term and change daily,” Bishop said.

Since people lost their homes, the state of Kentucky provided housing for displaced people and Lions provided furnishing and kitchen items for the residents living in these temporary housing situations.

“We’re going to have people that are displaced right now from our community that are probably never going to come back,” said Jeff Gream, associate council chairperson.

The goal in the long-term is to help people move back to the area to keep their community “Mayfield Strong.” Gream, a long-term resident, described that before the storms, Mayfield was a wonderful place to live with a unique, old downtown with the slogan, “More than a Memory.”

For Gream, the slogan is still true. “We are more than a memory, we are strong; we are Mayfield strong,” he said.

The determination of the Lions in Kentucky to rebuild their community is how communities—with the help of Lions and their global foundation—rebuild when disaster strikes.

“We can accomplish so much more when we can do it together,” Logan said. “The Lions’ efforts throughout the country made me speechless. If a Lion can help, one by one, we can do so much more.”

Watch a video to see the support of Lions and LCIF, and learn more about disaster relief grants: lionsclubs.org/disastergrants.