MCEWEN, Tennessee — From death to new life, from devastation to hope, from fear to newfound faith, the people of Humphreys County have experienced a range of emotions over the last year as they recover from the catastrophic flash floods that hit the area, particularly Waverly and McEwen, Aug. 21, 2021.
The impact killed 20 and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes, leaving many in unpredictable situations.
But simply by love of neighbor, several organizations stepped up, working together to get families back on their feet. One of those organizations is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference at St. Patrick Church in McEwen, which has helped provide aid in more than 100 cases.
“It is who we are as Catholics,” said Father Zack Kirangu, pastor of St. Patrick. “It’s the love of God and love of neighbor. It’s bringing the Christian faith, the Catholic faith to people and finding comfort for people.
“St. Vincent de Paul is a great blessing for the parish here at St. Patrick because St. Vincent de Paul has been the prophetic outreach for us,” he told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. “St. Vincent de Paul is the image of St. Patrick Church because that’s where we meet the need.”
“‘No’ is not in my vocabulary,” added Barbara Hooper, the St. Vincent de Paul conference vice president at St. Patrick and flood relief coordinator. Helping these families in need “is just what we do.”
Hooper and Eddie Bozman, another conference member, led the flood relief effort for the conference.
They didn’t waste time after the floods hit to respond, jumping in wherever there was a need, whether it was supplies right after the flood or later fixing homes and providing several “house in a box” — a collection of household items to furnish a home — for families once their home was livable again.
Additionally, they have partnered with various organizations who helped complete the many projects including Inspiritus, the Knights of Columbus, the St. Louis Sluggers, the Mennonites, Long-Term Recovery Group as well as various local churches.
And it’s through the financial donations of organizations, churches and individuals around the world, equaling 20 times their normal annual budget, that helped make much of it possible.
For the Bryant family — Shane, Tiffany, 18-year-old Chasity, 20-year-old Kaylynn and 21-year-old Cheyanna — the day of the flood didn’t just cost them their home, but also their daughter and sister, 15-year-old Lilly, after she was caught in the current of the flood waters while trying to reach safety with her sisters and friends.
The Bryants had to figure out their living situation and deal with their sudden grief. But help stepped in, as well as a little bit of divine intervention.
While the first floor of their home was unsalvageable, the second floor, where Lilly’s room was, remained undamaged by the flood waters. So, after purchasing a 700-square-foot home, and completing an expansion, they were able to dedicate a room to Lilly with all her things.
“It’s nice to go in there and sit and look at her things and touch them and reminisce,” Tiffany Bryant said. “It’s hard. It’s still hard. It’s hard every day. But it helps that we have our own space now to be able to grieve and deal with things our own way. We’ve been blessed to be able to stay with people, but it’s also nice to be in our own home.”
Volunteers as well as St. Vincent de Paul provided cabinets for the kitchen, lumber for the addition, a “house in a box” to furnish the home and just general support.
“The volunteers, they were here every day,” Shane Bryant said. “The volunteers helped make this happen.”
“It restores your faith in humanity, that’s for sure,” Tiffany Bryant added. “It’s been a blessing. (St. Vincent de Paul) has just been there for us, helped us through it all. Barbara’s called and we’ve heard from many people from there just checking on us, seeing if we need anything and have just always been there. They’ve been just a text or phone call away really.
“I don’t think we’d even be where we’re at or be here” in the home, which they moved into in April, she said. “There’s just no way.”
Now, as they settle, they’ve been “brought new life into the house” with their brand-new grandson, Kailo, born to their daughter Kaylynn, Tiffany Bryant said.
“He’s brought such joy,” she said. “He’s got us all wrapped around his finger.”
“He’s definitely made us fall in love with him,” added Chasity Bryant.
And, most importantly, they’re together as a family.
“It’s feeling more like home,” Tiffany Bryant said. “It doesn’t because we aren’t all together, but then again we are.”
Jane McCarson said she and her family expected water to be around their home as torrential downpours continued throughout the night, but she never anticipated what came.
By 6:30 a.m. that morning, “the water was already surrounding our house,” when her husband, Jerry, came to get her out, McCarson said. “I was scared. My heart was thumping.”
Although they were able to get to safety, their house was swept away.
“It was slammed up against the trees, turned completely off its foundation,” McCarson explained.
But, thanks to Jerry and the help of family and friends, they were able to salvage parts of the house including several windows, wood, the tin roof and more, and soon were able to build a tiny house on their property.
“I had so much anxiety,” McCarson said. “When (Jerry) started building here, I didn’t want to live here. I wanted to go.”
But she found strength in her faith.
“I came here when we were building it, and on the studs and on the steps I wrote Bible verse after Bible verse just to give me peace in this house,” some of which are still visible, McCarson said. “It helps, it really does.”
Several people stepped up, including family and friends, to contribute funds and St. Vincent de Paul, which helped them finish the cabinets in the kitchen and the railing to the upstairs, and provided them with a microwave, stove and refrigerator. Additionally, St. Vincent de Paul gave them gift cards so they could visit their daughter in Michigan over Christmas.
More than 70 of the 107 cases St. Vincent de Paul has contributed to are closed, but about 30 homes still require some help, and Hooper and the rest of the flood relief committee are not slowing down.
For Hooper and Bozman, the year they’ve had has changed their lives just as much as the lives of those they helped.
“It’s beyond happiness that you feel for them,” Hooper said as she thought about those that are back in their homes and thriving. “Each case is different; every person is different. Each situation, you just have to go in and let the Holy Spirit guide you.”
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Peterson is on the staff of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.