Hours after a massive tornado leveled Henryville, Indiana, Rich Cheek was smiling. You could tell from his voice.
On a cell phone he kept charging in his car because there was no longer a steady source of electricity, the Henryville Community Church senior pastor smiled from cheek to cheek and then paused, swallowing back a thick lump of emotion.
Pastor Cheek quickly described the shock of enduring the catastrophic storm that unleashed a deadly tornado on the second day of March. He tried to find words to explain how life had changed in an instant in the small town. He stumbled recalling not being able to locate church members who were teachers and students at the town’s now-leveled high school.
Everyone got out alive at the school, said Pastor Cheek, but now the immediate concern was how to continue the church’s mission of helping those in need, particularly when the church feeds nearly 2,000 people in a given month and now they had next to nothing and damage to the structure with which they had to contend.
Pastor Cheek listened intently as he was told Louisville-based Wick’s Pizza and The McMahan Group had $10,000 worth of food to donate. “Yesterday was distribution day (at the church) and we have nothing left,” he said. And then, taking in the news of the impending delivery that will occur today, he smiled.
“A lot of the people who come to us don’t have stoves to begin with and now they don’t have houses,” he said.
Henryville Community Church relies on Louisville’s Dare to Care for assistance feeding those who are hungry. The charity has offered help, but the immediate aid from others will fill what is a serious, desperate need RIGHT NOW. “We have generators and will fire up the grill and feed as many as we can,” Pastor Cheek said.
On a whim, Pastor Cheek started stocking bottled water over the past month. So much so that people began to comment on it. He didn’t know exactly why, and still doesn’t, but he kept storing it and simply replied to those who questioned him, “Who knows if there will be a tornado and we’ll need it.” Now Pastor Cheek understands the motivation to reserve clean water even he couldn’t previously explain. “God’s timing,” he said, smiling again as he stood outside in the darkness.
In the past year, members of the Pastor Cheek’s church have fed their fellow community members. They drove to Alabama to help with those who’d been affected by the 2011 Super Outbreak of tornadoes. More recently, they went to Eastern Kentucky to minister to and feed nearly 22,000 people.
“All these things, God has allowed us to build,” Pastor Cheek said, the passion and gratitude to serve evident in his voice. “We are the ones who are always going (wherever needed) to help,” he continued, quietly, “and now we are in need.”
Pastor Cheek and the Henryville Community Church have helped thousands. Now it’s their turn to receive support. If you want to help them and the many people they assist daily, you can in a very simple but important way.
The Voice-Tribune is taking donations to Henryville today (Saturday) and we need your participation. We’re taking donations 12-3 p.m. at The Voice, 735 E. Main St., on the corner of Main and Shelby streets in Butcher-town/Nulu.
Pastor Cheek explicitly requested that the donations we bring not be monetary. Save your financial donations for the Red Cross. What they need — NOW — is food, blankets, diapers, clothing, plasticware, paper plates, survival items and a showing of love that those of us delivering can convey on your behalf to the people in dire need. Help. Please.
All you have to do is show up at The Voice today between 12 and 3 p.m. That’s the easiest thing. If need be, contact Managing Editor Angie Fenton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502.551.2698.
Just before getting off the phone, Pastor Cheek smiled again. “Thank you,” he said. Our response: “No, thank you, Pastor Rich. You’ve helped thousands. Now it’s your turn. Louisville loves. That’s the best part about this community. They rally when people are in need. You stay safe tonight. We’ll see you soon.”