Neah Rainey, right, has been handing out home-cooked meals and personal items to tornado survivors. She gave help to hundreds a day right after the storm hit Memorial Day. And just about every day she can still be found at the gazebo at Shiloh Church with her mother, Zola Williams, helping out families, including Cassie Pepper, who stopped by for help recently. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Woman feeds tornado survivors, nourishes self

The morning after tornadoes hit, Neah Rainey cleaned out her personal and business bank accounts — to the last dime — stocked up at a grocery store and prepared to make hundreds of sandwiches.

“I saw a lot of my friends on Facebook were trapped in their homes, in their basements. People were hurt, hungry and thirsty,” she said.

Driven by her faith and a desire to help, Rainey wove past downed trees and homes left splintered by a powerful EF4 tornado, one of 15 twisters that tore through the region Memorial Day night.

“There were spots that didn’t look familiar anymore,” said Rainey of Dayton.

She pulled over along a debris-strewn Riverside Drive in Harrison Twp. and started handing out water and feeding those in need.

“I didn’t lose anything, but I had means and a way of making money, and I knew there were going to be thousands of people who wouldn’t,” Rainey said. “So the sacrifice was very little.”

Day after day she went back, setting up a tent were she handed out hundreds of prepared hot meals to victims and volunteers.

Two months later and after other aid groups are gone, Rainey remains a fixture in the neighborhood, feeding the hungry and handing out personal care items donated to her cause.

“There are a still a lot of families struggling — a lot,” Rainey said. “We’re still finding people daily who don’t have any idea how to continue going forward. This little bit … is necessary.”

A baker by trade, Rainey moved her distribution point for tornado survivors to the gazebo at Shiloh Church at the corner of North Main Street and Philadelphia Drive, where she continues to serve about 50 meals a day.

Not affiliated with a church or other organization, Rainey, 42, will help anyone in need, no questions asked, she said. But if someone wants to tell her a problem, Rainey will try to help or point them in the right direction.

“I don’t have any type of degrees in psychology, but I knew how to say the right words to give comfort at the time,” she said.

Rainey is still operating her baking business, Sweet Rain Desserts, when not at the gazebo, were she’s usually found from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays.

Some days, Rainey is joined by her mother, Zola Williams, who helps serve the home-cooked meals that have included burrito bowls, chicken Alfredo, jambalaya, meatloaf and tacos among others.

“She wanted to do it, and I didn’t want her out here by herself,” Williams said. “She does all the lifting, but as far as getting the care packages together, I help.”

Williams said if people want to help, donations of personal care items can be dropped off at the gazebo when they are there. The items most needed are household and personal hygiene items like baby items, deodorant, diapers (for both infants and adults), paper towel, shampoo, soaps, toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, towels and washcloths.

They do not take clothes, but can use gift cards to gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants.

“There are still families I take to the grocery store,” Rainey said.

Cassie Pepper of Harrison Twp. stopped by the gazebo last week and Rainey handed her a gift card for food. It wasn’t the only thing on Pepper’s mind as the Harrison Twp. resident struggled with how to get a car repaired and find a new washing machine while caring for her aging parents.

Rainey pulled out a notebook and gave Pepper the name of a local agency that might help with the washing machine.

“Those ladies are dedicated,” Pepper said. “It’s great they’re here.”

During last week’s heat, Rainey said she met people in the area without electricity, not directly caused by the tornadoes but due to poverty that welled up years before.

“I’m finding out those without electricity are having trouble paying bills,” she said.

Rainey and her mother have helped a family of 15, people with dementia, a few elderly residents just now leaving their homes and others camping in nearby woods.

The effort will last at least through Christmas so she can distribute toys to children in need, Rainey said.

“There is no turning around now. It’s almost a way to live now,” she said. “After I saw what happened, I wanted to have something in place if another tragedy like that happens again.”

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