2022 Intergenerational Mission Trip
On our first day of boots on the ground, Mary Bates, Coordinator of NALC’s Disaster Relief response, took us on a tour of the tornado damage in Mayfield. We saw many old historic buildings, including an old church that had been reduced to rubble. Much of the downtown was gone, only cement slabs where buildings used to be. A total of 26 died in Graves County, a total of 80 people died across Kentucky.
The town of Mayfield was established in 1824. It is the County Seat of Graves County, Kentucky. The population of the town was around 10,000 as of the 2020 census. It relied in part on its Victorian style buildings in the downtown area to create that historic charm that tourists love to visit. A lot of that historic charm is gone now and would be difficult to recreate.
The candle factory destroyed by the tornado employed 500 people and produced candles for several brands. Bath & Body Works among other stores were supplied by products from this factory. The factory was a lifeline for many residents of Mayfield who relied on it for basically minimum wage jobs. One hundred ten workers were in the factory when the tornado hit. Nine died. Workers were laid off following the tornado. Operations were moved to the town of Hickory about 10 miles north of Mayfield where another plant already exists. Only 250 of the 500 Mayfield workers were called back to work at that location. A huge hit to the economy of a small town.
Mary took us to the site of the candle factory. The site was cleared and is now just a cement slab, all visible memory of what happened there erased. We stood on a hill overlooking the site. There was a little tree in the middle of the field that you could tell had been broken off and mostly destroyed by the tornado, but it had foliage on it. It was still trying to be a tree. Mother Nature never gives up! The grass in the field was probably about 4 feet high. Clearly it hadn’t been mowed for a while. A few butterflies danced above the grass. The butterfly has become a metaphor for transformation and hope. Across cultures it has become a symbol for rebirth and resurrection. But butterflies have to fight their way out of the cocoon. It’s part of the process. The only way to make their wings strong enough to fly is to push against that cocoon ‘til they break out. So it was uplifting to see those butterflies keeping watch over such a scene of destruction and crushed hopes, but I also realized at the end of the week that the town was still deep in their cocoon of hopelessness, grief, and despair.
So we went on to do what we would do that week, and as I sat on the side of the bed in my motel room on the day we left to come home, I realized that our little group were 20 strong butterflies that had flown in from Texas and Arkansas to do what we could to help restore hope to that little town and maybe kick start them to pick themselves up off the ground and begin to break out of their collective cocoons. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a week of my life and I hope to be able to go back to continue the work there. There is still plenty to do.