United Way of Central Alabama lends a helping hand after the Lee County tornadoes


Screen Shot 2019 03 21 at 10.11.04 AM United Way of Central Alabama lends a helping hand after the Lee County tornadoes
United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) in partnership with United Way of Lee County, has launched a secure and trusted donation site that will serve victims of Sunday’s F3 tornadoes. Photo from the United Way of Central Alabama Facebook page

Drew Langloh, CEO of United Way of Central Alabama knows all too well what to do when a disaster strikes.

On April 27, 2011, the worst outbreak of tornadoes in the history of Alabama occurred, striking all over North-Central Alabama, including Birmingham. In the following days and months, Langloh and the United Way quickly mobilized a massive relief and recovery effort with partner organizations throughout our community.

March 3rd, a tornado hit the towns of Smith Station and Beauregard in Lee County. This time, the United Way of Central Alabama offered to help a fellow United Way in need.

“When we saw the tornadoes hit Lee County, unfortunately, we have a fair amount of experience in recovering from tornadoes here in the Birmingham area,” said Langloh. “So, I immediately called Becky Benton, the CEO of United Way of Lee County. I knew she would need help, because in those early days you are so busy.”

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Samaritan’s Purse mobilizes staff and equipment and enlists thousands of volunteers to provide emergency aid to victims of tornadoes. Photo from the United Way of Lee County Facebook page.

The United Way of Central Alabama asked Benton what she needed and she told them that they needed help setting up an online fundraising site so people can donate to Lee County’s long term recovery efforts.

“We are a very small United Way,” added Benton. “ We only have 3 employees. Setting up the donation site, for us, without an IT staff, that is major. So, we were very appreciative when the United Way of Central Alabama reached out to us.”


Within days, UWCA not only launched a secure donation site, it also made an appeal to their donors.

Something special happened. Alabama Senator Doug Jones helped spread the word about the fundraising site in a message to hundreds of thousands of his donors and constituents. People locally and throughout the country started giving. In short order, over $150,000 has been raised (as of March 20) by 831 contributors from 42 states. The donations have come from everywhere. Church groups have passed collection plates on Sundays, local businesses have chipped in and individuals and families have raised funds. The average gift is $86.

Long Term Recovery

According to Langloh and Benton, the monies raised will go toward the long term recovery of Lee County.

United Way plays an important role in these community-wide disasters.

Traditionally, United Way’s will convene a long term recovery committee. It is different in every community, but it is basically made up of people and organizations that either have money, materials and manpower to aid in the recovery process.

“The whole purpose is to get all those community players around the table to coordinate their relief efforts together,” said Langloh. “In the case of the 2011 tornadoes in our community, United Way led that roundtable. That coordinated group rebuilt 300 homes in two years.”

United Way of Central Alabama is sharing their vast knowledge and experience concerning the special role of a Long Term Recovery Committee with Lee County.

“It is sad that experience has to be our teacher, but they have gained so much knowledge on what is needed to be done,” Benton added.


United Way of Central Alabama
Staff and volunteers connected hundreds of disaster survivors to resources and information as part of 2-1-1 Connects Central Alabama disaster response . Photo courtesy of United Way of Central Alabama.

One other role all United Ways provide during natural disasters is the 2-1-1 service.

This invaluable free service is confidential and connects callers instantly to some resources, functioning as a ‘one stop shop’ for those in need. United Way of Central Alabama has an agreement with Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency in times of disaster – taking non-emergency disaster-related calls.

During the 2011 tornado outbreak, the UWCA 2-1-1 program expanded from 3 operators handling calls to 30 people staffing the phones 24/7. Within 2 weeks, more than 25,000 disaster-related calls were addressed, answering questions ranging from where the closest shelter might be to places that provide food assistance.

Lee County Needs Your Help

Recovering from a natural disaster such as the one in Lee County can take years. The March 3rd tornado destroyed over 202 homes and damaged 107. For a little rural community, that is overwhelming.

“It is such a blessing that they (UWCA) reached out and offered assistance to us. It is incredible and heartwarming to have a brother United Way, like the United Way of Central Alabama, which is like a big brother, help us others (United Ways) like us that don’t have the same capacity. We are very grateful,” concluded Benton.

Lee County still needs our help. Please consider giving to the UWCA Lee County Disaster Fund – HERE.

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Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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