Greene County pilots and local churches are stepping into the role of Santa Claus for tornado survivors in Kentucky this week, though some say their work doesn’t end with the holidays.
Kelly West, owner of Skydive Greene County and a longtime Xenia resident, has been collecting clothes, supplies, and hygiene items, but this week is also focusing on toys and gift cards for children and their families.
“We just want there to be a Santa Claus this year,” West said.
The organization’s immediate need is toys, but the two pilots employed by Skydive Greene County will continue to fly supplies, including clothes and pet food, as often as they can, as demand shifts from recovery efforts.
Skydive Greene County is among those in an Ohio Pilots Facebook group using smaller planes to deliver supplies directly to Kentuckians. Supplies are often distributed directly to families through local churches, rather than going through FEMA or a large government organization.
“[Smaller planes] can’t carry as much, but they have some flexibility. I like the idea of getting into a smaller airport and taking it directly to a church,” West said.
On Sunday, Be Hope Church in Beavercreek spent several hours filling a 15-foot truck with gas cans, extension cords, towels, washcloths, and hygiene items. The church also collected monetary donations.
“Three years ago when the tornadoes hit in Beavercreek, our church was not affected, but the churches around us were. We started cutting trees, started to organize volunteers and things like that,” said pastor Sheila Slone. “So when this happened so close to us, we knew the destruction that was happening in people’s lives, so we wanted to help them as quickly as possible.”
West was a child in 1974, when she lived through the tornado that ripped through Xenia, killing 32 people. Ever since, her family has been involved in recovery efforts.
“The tornadoes that hit Dayton and West Carrollton, it took years to rebuild. Can’t imagine a tornado of this magnitude in such a rural area with supply chain issues,” West said.
A large portion of those they serve are renters, some of whom are unable to obtain temporary housing, West said. Another problem is the weather.
“They literally have nothing. I don’t think as a nation we fully understand the need of these people,” she said. “When we were hit in April (in 1974) it was warm. It’s not warm now.”
“What’s going to happen in 3 months? What’s going to happen in 6 months? We need to be there for these people, not just today,” West added.
Though both organizations are playing Santa Claus right now, they are ready to help with recovery efforts regardless of the time of year.
“We always want to help. It’s just within us to help those around us,” Slone said. “Especially when we have a deep understanding of what people have been through, it’s what we are called to do as Christians, as Christ-followers. I can guarantee no matter what time of the year, we would have done that.”
Skydive Greene County is still taking donations on its Facebook page.