Volunteer discovers needs, rumors in Cordova
by Jennifer Cohron
Jun 06, 2011 | 5879 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Suzanne Williston stocks some Gatorade in Cordova’s makeshift fire department downtown. Williston came to the city for a campout two weeks ago and returned this weekend to bring supplies. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
Suzanne Williston stocks some Gatorade in Cordova’s makeshift fire department downtown. Williston came to the city for a campout two weeks ago and returned this weekend to bring supplies. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
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CORDOVA — Suzanne Williston came to Cordova nearly two weeks ago expecting to see a tent city. She didn’t find it.

Williston is part of Boots on the Ground, a group of three mothers from Shelby and Marion counties looking to make a difference through discoveries.

“We work side by side with Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa. We go out and try to find out what’s really going on,” Williston said.

Williston, an EMT and firefighter, has made trips to Town Creek, Hackleburg, Phil Campbell and Pratt City since the April 27 tornadoes.

She spent several days in each devastated city sorting out the real needs from the rumors.

In Hackleburg, for example, Williston was told that there was an elderly resident living in a tent.

When she met with him, he said that he was only in the area helping a family member.

“He said, ‘I didn’t lose my home. I don’t even live here.’ He was helping clean up the land of a relative who was in the hospital,” Williston said.

There were others who needed help, however.

A diabetic needed insulin. A woman whose gas had been turned off because of leaks in the pipes needed a heater to get through a cold snap. A volunteer fire department on the outskirts of the city needed to be stocked with supplies.

After returning from one of her trips last month, Williston saw Facebook and news reports about Cordova officials refusing to allow FEMA trailers in the city.

“We were told that people were living in rubble and tents out in their yards because they didn’t have anywhere to go. So I got upset,” she said.

Williston organized a Cordova campout through Facebook so outsiders like herself could show support for local citizens.

When she came into the city to make preparations, she was surprised to find one resident living in a tent. Later, she learned about one more.

“At that point, I got on Facebook and tried to turn the campout into something more informative so people could see for themselves what was going on,” Williston said.

Some Facebook fans did not respond well to the change, according to Williston.

Although 158 reservations had been made for the campout, only 10 tents were set up that weekend.

She said some campers feared they would encounter problems with law enforcement. There was even a rumor that she had been arrested.

In fact, Williston said she has developed a good rapport with police officers and other city officials.

“People say, ‘You’ve got to be careful. They’re bad people.’ They’ve actually been very friendly and hospitable,” Williston said.

During the campout weekend, Williston and other volunteers provided assistance to six families in Cordova.

They were also able to help one of the individuals living in a tent clean up his land and secured a larger tent and a canopy for him.

Since then, Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa has received a donation to purchase a trailer for him.

City officials learned last week that the other resident living in a tent has been offered shelter by a relative in another county but has not yet made the move.

Williston returned to Cordova last weekend to facilitate the delivery of more supplies, including Gatorade and a freezer for the makeshift fire department.

She continues to seek out residents who need her help.

She said she believes some time outside the media spotlight would help the recovery process in Cordova.

“You can’t go anywhere without seeing media. These people need some time to concentrate on rebuilding their lives, not running from TV cameras,” Williston said.