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Baptists respond to areas devastated by April tornadoescomment (1)

September 29, 2011

On April 27, the third of four tornadoes that struck Cullman County took dead aim at downtown Cullman at 2:55 p.m. Tornado No. 3 left a devastating trail from Jasper to Cullman to Arab and beyond.

Tornado No. 3 caused more than $3 million in damages to First Baptist Church, Cullman, and completely destroyed the northeast corner of the education building. More than 70 biblical costumes that had been stored in the building vanished with the tornado, gone with the wind.

On April 28, the aunt of one of the members of First, Cullman, found a copy of The Baptist Hymnal 1991 lying in her front yard in Knoxville, Tenn. That hymnal had been transported by tornado No. 3 and carried 206 miles before landing in Tennessee.

The thought that the hymnal had flown more than 200 miles caused Holly Hirsbrunner, a member of First, Cullman, to wonder what really had happened to those costumes. If tornado No. 3 could take a hymnal from First, Cullman, and deposit it in Knoxville, Tenn., then where in the world did those costumes go?

On her Facebook page, Hirsbrunner posted, “Has anyone in the Knoxville area seen any angel costumes in the trees?,” not really expecting an answer. She knew that the same tornado that had gone through Cullman had blown through Ringgold, Ga., and Apison, Tenn., before going on through the Knoxville area.

Jackie Caruso, a member of Christ United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Hirsbrunner’s longtime friend, read her question on Facebook and things began to click. Caruso thought, “I can’t use a chain saw. And I can’t haul off logs but I can sew.”   

Caruso soon called Hirsbrunner, began to inquire about the number and type of costumes that had been destroyed and then volunteered to organize an army of seamstresses to make 70 new costumes to replace the ones that had been taken by the tornado.

Caruso’s daughter donated all of the outdated bridal gowns in her bridal shop so that her mother could use that material to make the costumes. Caruso rounded up sewing friends in four different states, told them about the project and asked for a commitment. All of them agreed to help Caruso complete the costume project.

On Sept. 1, Caruso drove from Ooltewah, Tenn., to Cullman to hand-deliver the 70 new costumes and all the trimmings — sashes, belts, headbands — to Joey Orr, minister of preschoolers and children at First, Cullman. Hirsbrunner and myself, minister of education and outreach at First, Cullman, joined with Orr to receive the costumes. It was an emotional time as everyone involved in the whole story realized that what had been done was a microcosm of how God intends for His people to work together to build His Kingdom. Everyone at First, Cullman, can hardly wait for Christmas to come this year but not for the usual reasons. This year, they are excited because they want to see the new costumes in use.  
Jim O’Dillon
First Baptist Church, Cullman

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Comment (1)

    Julie Grimes 2/28/2012 10:11 AM

    What a beautiful story. Nicely done. I've heard and seen similar stories of people who help where they can. That is such a special way to share God with others. Thank you for sharing this.

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