published Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Volunteers pour into Ringgold

RINGGOLD, Ga. — After the tornado struck his hometown, Nick Van Pelt canceled his vacation and flew from North Dakota, where he is stationed in the Air Force, to Ringgold with two weeks’ leave.

Van Pelt has been working since last Sunday alongside his father and other volunteers to secure tarps on roofs that are full of holes or completely gone. When he isn’t doing that, the 2003 Ringgold High School graduate is cutting and removing trees that have fallen in yards or onto homes.

Michael Wells helped patch up his relatives’ home and began walking door to door, asking if anyone needed his help in his former neighborhood off Sparks Street, where some of the worst devastation hit inside city limits.

Wells volunteers in the morning before he heads to his 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift with the Dalton Recreation Department.

“This used to be my neighborhood,” Wells said. “I wanted to help everybody.”

Stories like Van Pelt’s and Wells’ are echoed throughout the damaged town. A Ringgold woman who now lives in Nashville drove a cart and delivered food to locals who couldn’t leave their homes Monday and Tuesday. A Summerville, Ga., businessman offered to bring his crane to help lift trees off houses.

By Tuesday, almost 800 people had registered at Ringgold United Methodist Church to volunteer throughout the community.

“They’ve come from South Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama,” said Jimmy Myers, a volunteer helping head the disaster relief center at Poplar Springs Baptist Church.

Along with Poplar Springs, Ringgold United Methodist Church downtown and Cherokee Valley Baptist are coordinating the volunteer efforts. Grace Church of Catoosa County became the fourth distribution site for tornado victims.

On Tuesday, the gym at Poplar Springs Baptist boasted organized rows of supplies from water bottles to toilet paper and baby food.

“You name it, we’ve got it,” Myers said. “Everything from mouthwash to dish wash.”

Across the street from the Baptist church, 10 workers from Griffin Baptist Church in South Carolina were cutting trees sprawled in a yard and hauling branches to the road.

“We’re just trying to spread a little of God’s cheer,” said Michael Fowler, a church volunteer.

More than 40 volunteers from South Carolina were sent to Ringgold through the Southern Baptist Association, Fowler said. The group was spread across town offering to clear yards and remove trees from homes.

More volunteers will be needed this week once teachers and students are back in classes, said Melody Moore, a volunteer helping organize registration. A large majority of the volunteers heading the distribution center were teachers, she said.

The need is great, officials say, but the work will be spread out.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Fowler said. “And I’ve been through a few hurricanes.”

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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