By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – Representatives from Food City, WCYB in the Tri Cities and WVLT came to the Cookeville-Putnam County EOC today to present a check for $391,261 to the Cookeville-Putnam County Tornado Relief Fund today bringing the fund to over $1 million in donations.
Food City President and CEO Steve Smith told how the grocery chain teamed up with WVLT, WCYB and WTBC in the fundraising initiative that included all of Food Cities stores in Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee. Customers were given an opportunity to make a monetary donation at check-out.
“Unfortunately, in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, we’re no strangers to tragedies like you had here in your area,” said Smith. “Back in 2011 we went through a group of tornados that did a lot of damage to southwest Virginia, Green County and Washington County, Tennessee. We certainly survived the Gatlinburg fires. We know how you feel, but it does get better. Every day gets a little bit better.
“The lives of many of your friends and neighbors here in Middle Tennessee have been devastated by these tornados,” Smith continued. “We realize no amount of money could ever make up for the loss of life that you have suffered, but we wanted to do everything we could possible to provide assistance through this critical time.”
Food City started the fund raiser by donating $10,000 and over a six-day period, $381,261 for a total $391,261 which will 100% stay in Putnam County.
“We saw big donations. We saw small donations. Churches, schools, scout troops, children. We saw everybody come into the stores and make a donation.”
Adrian Pearce of WVLT read a statement from Jasmine Harcher, WVLT general manager, “WVLT is a proud partner with Food City to help raise funds to support our neighbors in Putnam County. Tennesseans showing their volunteer spirit during this tragedy was wonderful to see. We will continue to tell your stories and help wherever we can. You have inspired us all.”
Dave Dierks, WCYB-Tri Cities chief meteorologist said, “As a representative of the East Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia, I think I can safely say that when we all got up last Tuesday morning and saw what was unfolding across parts of Middle Tennessee, we were in shock. We share your sorrow and I like to think when Middle Tennessee is hurting, all of Tennessee is hurting. We’re just glad as a news group, WCYB, to have partnered with Food City to be part of this fundraiser. Our hearts and prayers go out to all the people who have suffered through this and continue to recover. And all who have suffered loss of lives, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with you.”
“I can tell you what Food City has been able to do with our customers, we’re very proud of, but we are also proud of the fact that we are looking forward to coming to Cookeville as a business partner as well,” said Smith. “Steven Spangler, our real estate vice-president, has been working with Wayne Cravens for a number of months, and I’m proud to say I think we are real close to being able to say Food City’s going to be here next year. So that gives me a lot of hope to not only do business here in Cookeville and Putnam County, but also to see the rebuilding that’s going to go on here in this community.”
Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton thanked Food City and its media partners and expressed the community’s gratitude for their contributions.
“This is unbelieveable,” said Shelton. “March 3rd was the darkest day in Cookeville-Putnam County history and for your company – that’s not even here yet – to reach out and all of East Tennessee to share in our grief and to partner with us to help our families and our victims that have suffered so much and bring this light and hope to them means so much to our community. We’re so thankful, and thankful that Wayne Cravens established this relationship and that we’re going to be able to fulfill that in the future with your store and we’re excited for that. I know you didn’t do it for that – you did it because it’s the right thing to do – and for that I’m eternally grateful for my citizens for my hometown.”
“On behalf of everyone in Putnam County, we are so thankful to Food City,” Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter said before reflecting that Food City’s community in East Tennessee had shared a similar tragedy in 2011 or 2012, so they understand what our county is going through.
“We have 18 people who have lost their lives, we have many people that have lost their homes and belongings, and they are hurting,” Porter reflected. “When we set this fund up, Mayor Shelton and I did, right after the disaster happened, we wanted to make sure that 100% of every penny, every penny that goes to this fund, is going back to those people. None of it goes to the governments, none goes to any agencies, it all goes back to the relief for those survivors and their families that are going to need this money to rebuild and recover.”
Porter summed up the event by saying, “We’re eternally grateful and I just thank the good Lord for you and your company for what you’re doing, and we welcome you with open arms to our community. We’re so thankful that you’re coming here and thankful for you doing this. Words cannot speak our appreciation for you and what you’re doing.”