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People reaching out to help

Response by Lonoke County residents and agencies to the tornado disaster of Sunday night was immediate. Crews from county and city departments were among the first on the scene to help clear roadways and keep the area secure, and by Monday afternoon residents had collected trailer loads of supplies to take to centers at Mayflower and Vilonia.

Churches, civic organizations, businesses, school groups and others are pooling resources to collect and transport supplies.

Lonoke County American Red Cross coordinator Rita Schmitz provided a list of items needed at the response centers.

Bottled water, non-perishable food items, can openers, blankets, heavy duty trash bags, heavy duty gloves, gas cans, sun block, paper/shop towels, boxes and box tape, soap, hand sanitizer, energy bars, tarps, flashlights, batteries (AAA to D), hygiene products, sports drinks, baby food, pet food, diapers, plastic totes/heavy boxes.

An ARC collection point has been set up at Christ Church, on Arkansas Highway 5 (across from Greystone), Schmitz said. ARC is also accepting monetary donations to support the disaster response, she said.

Mike Rayburn, owner of Rayburn Sports, said Tuesday that he has been overwhelmed by the response by high school students to a call for liquids. “I wanted to do something. But I thought ‘What can one person do?’ So I called the high school and asked for them to announce what I wanted to do.

Principal Henry Hawkins announced it, and “The response was overwhelming,” Rayburn said. His trailer has been filled twice with all kinds of bottled water, sodas, juices and sports drinks. “I didn’t even have to load it. I just got out of the way and [students] loaded it,” he said.

On Tuesday, Cabot Police Department public information officer Keith Graham said nine officers were among those on the scene at Vilonia on Sunday night searching for survivors in the rubble.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to everyone out there,” Graham said. “We saw a lot of destruction, a lot of death out there Sunday.”

Seven officers were sent to help on Monday with search and recovery, but also taking on more security patrols to prevent looting.

By Tuesday the department was waiting to be notified of when the officers would be needed, Graham said.

Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson said firefighters were also on the scene at Vilonia on Sunday evening to help in searches. Fire crews are going back on Wednesday to begin taking shifts to support emergency calls, he said.

County Judge Doug Erwin said Monday that county road crews were immediately sent to help clear debris.

Other collection points include Russell Chapel Church of the Nazarene, at the junction of Mahoney Loop with Arkansas Highway 5; Linco, at 10 Commercial Drive; Rayburn Sports, 16 Ryeland Drive; and Ward City Municipal Center.

Mt. Carmel Baptist Church at Cabot is accepting Walmart gift cards in $10 and $25 amounts to be distributed to tornado victims through Faulkner Baptist Assoication. Gift cards can be dropped off at the church, 163 Mt. Carmel Rd (the junction of Arkansas Highways 5 and 321). The church will announce volunteer opportunities later.

The Russell Chapel Church of the Nazarene will take donations of tarps, bottled water, plastic storage hubs and heavy boxes. It is located a the corner of Arkansas Highway 89 South and Mahoney Road, south of Cabot. No clothes, please.

Donations like those at Russell Chapel can be dropped off at the Cabot Star-Herald office, 206 Plaza Blvd. Suite G.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division reminds residents to exercise caution when donating funds. An AG’s notice reported that the first reports of scams began not even 24 hours after the storm hit and a scam charity was identified on a crowd-funding Website. Such Websites are set up for fundraising, but are attractive to scammers.

The AG’s office offers five guides to ensuring storm-relief donations go to those for whom it is intended:

1. Confirm the validity of the charity. There is a list of charities registered with the state of Arkansas available online at ArkansasAG.gov.

2. Be cautious of donating to sites promoted solely through social media.

3. Double-check crowd funding sites. These accounts are easy for scammers to set up.

4. Give to a trusted organization - local churches and relief groups like the American Red Cross and Salvation Army are already on the ground helping those affected.

5. Make donations through a secure website. A simple way to check for security is to make sure that “https” is listed in the URL (web address).

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