Tornado Puts Small Town in Tailspin

When an EF3 tornado tore through Seneca, S.C., last spring, destroying more than 200 homes and damaging another 1,700, it passed within one quarter mile of the Golden Corner Food Pantry, the largest food pantry in Oconee County. They serve an average of 1,000 households a month, including hundreds of seniors.

Lions pose in front of food pantry
Seneca Lions at the food pantry. Left to right: Mike Harlin, pantry board chairman, Lion Ron White, Lion Ed McCann, Lion Kathy Carroll, Lion Mike McGrey, Lion Bob Walden, and Jeff Heaton, pantry executive director.

The City of Seneca asked that the pantry coordinate distribution of food to tornado victims, of which there were many in the close-knit town of 8,000, and to volunteers assisting in cleanup operations. But that became more challenging when the pantry lost power for six days and had no backup power source.

Who helps the helpers?

The Seneca Lions, long devoted volunteers at the pantry, quickly stepped up. Pantry Executive Director Jeff Heaton scrambled to find a solution as the pantry was now serving 1,000 people a day who were without electricity and water. He immediately secured a 26-foot refrigerated truck.

Club members put out the call for support and funds were immediately contributed by the Seneca, Greenville West End, Winnsboro, Salem, Murrells Inlet, Taylors, Lexington, and Clemson Lions Clubs. The primary need was the acquisition of a backup generator to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.

Lions fix generator at food pantry
Lion Bob Walden (left) lends a steady hand when installing the generator.

The Lions applied for a US$20,000 Community Recovery Grant from LCIF, and it was immediately approved, enabling them to pay half of the US$40,000 needed for a gas generator and the equipment required to back up the entire facility. Donations from the community took care of the rest.

Heaton says when the tornado hit, the pantry became the area’s predominant food supply source, for both donations and distribution. With the stress of COVID-19 on families and the unemployment caused by the pandemic, the tornado exacerbated the great need already present in the small community, making it more important than ever to get the pantry up and functioning.

Work continues on the roads and infrastructure as well as some homes today.

“We’re still in the recovery process,” Heaton says. “But our numbers have stabilized. The Lions are a great bunch of folks, really a blessing that’s non-monetary. Help is hard to get, and they’ve been great in labor and kindness. We’ll get back.”