Volunteers Help Columbia Recover After Tornado

More than 70 volunteers joined Keep Mississippi Beautiful in Columbia on June 6 to help improve the town’s Woodlawn Cemetery, which was badly damaged in a 2014 tornado.

More than 70 volunteers joined Keep Mississippi Beautiful in Columbia on June 6 to help improve the town’s Woodlawn Cemetery, which was badly damaged in a 2014 tornado.

More than 70 volunteers gathered June 6 to help Columbia, Mississippi, recover following a 2014 tornado. Thanks to a grant from Anheuser-Busch as well as the support of Southwest Distributors and many others, Keep Mississippi Beautiful held a community improvement day, where volunteers planted trees and shrubs at Columbia’s landmark Woodlawn Cemetery.

An EF3 tornado struck Columbia and other southern Mississippi communities on Dec. 23, 2014, killing five people, injuring 50 people and damaging many homes and businesses. Columbia is a historic town, and in addition to the loss of life and damage to property, many trees were knocked down, including many in the town’s cemetery.

Following the storm, many residents convened at Woodlawn Cemetery, where they found the hundred-year-old trees that once shaded the cemetery now twisted and destroyed and grave markers now toppled and buried. KMB and partners wanted to help the town restore this place to its once peaceful state.

Stephanie Hutchins, chair of Keep Mississippi Beautiful’s board of directors, plants shrubs near one of the cemetery’s entrances with Michael Belote with Southwest Distributors and Forrest Dungan of Columbia.

Stephanie Hutchins, chair of Keep Mississippi Beautiful’s board of directors, plants shrubs near one of the cemetery’s entrances with Michael Belote with Southwest Distributors and Forrest Dungan of Columbia.

“It was heartwarming to know that people from across the state wanted to come and help our community recover,” said Rene Dungan, affiliate director for Keep Columbia/Marion County Beautiful. “We’re so thankful to our many local, state and national partners and the dedicated volunteers who made this day possible. This day got our town one step closer to recovering from the devastating tornado.”

The Keep America Beautiful/ Anheuser-Busch Environmental Grant of $10,000 enabled KMB to purchase trees, shrubs and other landscaping materials, which were planted in the cemetery, including the cemetery’s two entrances. KMB was selected for the grant earlier this year to aid the town in its recovery.

“When we learned of this grant opportunity through Anheuser-Busch, we actively sought it for Columbia, knowing that funds would help this town replant many of the gorgeous trees that were lost,” said Stephanie Hutchins, chair of KMB’s board of directors and vice president of Southwest Distributors. “This grant opportunity is making a difference across the country, including right here in Mississippi in Columbia.”

Volunteers from across the state came to help, including Keep Mississippi Beautiful board members, Southwest Distributors employees and Mississippi First Lady Deborah Bryant. Despite the heat, volunteers worked a long, hard day, proud of their contribution to the town’s cemetery. Additionally, Mississippi Power employees volunteered the day before the event, completing the preparation work for the event.

Partners included the city of Columbia, Marion County Development Partnership, Keep Columbia/Marion County Beautiful, Southwest Distributors, Anheuser-Busch, Mississippi Power and many others.

“We’re so grateful for all of our volunteers and partners who made this improvement day possible,” KMB Executive Director Sarah Kountouris said. “We know that when we come together and work to help one another, we can accomplish so much more.”

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