published Monday, June 6th, 2011

Designed to inspire

 Elliott Jost holds up a shirt her mother, Diana, left, designed to help benefit cleanup efforts as her sister, Mary Margaret looks on in Ringgold, Ga., May 24, 2011. (AP Photo/The Daily Citizen, Misty Watson)
Elliott Jost holds up a shirt her mother, Diana, left, designed to help benefit cleanup efforts as her sister, Mary Margaret looks on in Ringgold, Ga., May 24, 2011. (AP Photo/The Daily Citizen, Misty Watson)

DALTON, Ga.—Can a T-shirt rebuild a town?

In Ringgold, Ga.’s case, it’s certainly helping.

After a powerful tornado tore through Catoosa County, killing eight and leaving behind massive destruction, Ringgold native Diana Jost began brainstorming for ways to help. A freelance graphic artist, Jost decided to design and sell an inspirational T-shirt with proceeds going to tornado relief.

“I felt like I was really limited as to what I could do to help the people in town,” said Jost, a graduate of Ringgold High School. “I knew that I couldn’t donate massive amounts of money — I don’t have it — and physical labor I could do, but it’s just tough with the kids in tow. I woke up and thought, ‘I’m so stupid. I’m a graphic designer. I can design something, maybe.’ So the T-shirt idea came to my head.”

So far, Jost estimates about 2,000 T-shirts have been sold. Each shirt is $12, with $8 of each purchase going to Poplar Springs Baptist Church in Ringgold. She doesn’t have the exact amount raised so far because some people have donated money above the cost of the shirts.

On the front of the shirt is a small drawing of a tornado and the sentence, “Rebuilding The Town That Built Me.” Below that sentence is “After The Storm, Ringgold, Georgia.” The back of the shirt reads, “Ringgold, Twenty-Eleven Twister” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Town Down.”

Jost worked for Salem Carpet, and after Shaw Industries bought the company, she transferred to Dalton. After she started a family, she decided to venture out on her own and founded the freelance graphic design company Leap Design, which has customers in Dalton.

Jost began cultivating the T-shirt idea the Sunday after the tornado hit April 27. By May 2 she had a Facebook post gauging interest, and on May 3 she began selling shirts. She initially spent $125 on 26 shirts, thinking she would buy one and could convince 25 friends to buy the rest. She went to John Raisin at Raisin Textiles in Dalton, who provided her with a discounted rate for the shirts.

“They were gone essentially before I got them in the car,” Jost said.

Jost and her two daughters began selling the shirts in front of the Ringgold Ingles grocery store where they worked on the food line to feed out of town workers. Selling the shirts out of a shopping buggy, they sold out that first day. And the second day. Sales continued to be brisk.

But she had a problem: Who should the donations go to? She queried residents. She asked workers. Who is making a big difference on the ground?

Poplar Springs Baptist Church kept coming up.

“I walked into the gymnasium — I get chill bumps when I think about it — they had a hot food line, a clothing store, counseling, kid’s day care,” she said. “There were hundreds of people there. Hundreds of little kids. They were filling up shopping carts and driving them out to their cars. I said, ‘This is where the money is going to go.”’

The outpouring of support for the battered community and beyond has “humbled” Jost. She’s filled orders from across the state and throughout the South. People have sent checks with notes saying not to send a T-shirt and to pass one along to someone who needs one. Jost received a $500 check from someone she didn’t know, made out to her.

“For all they know, I’m going to cash it and pay my mortgage or something,” Jost said. “I’ve been blown away by people’s generosity and their absolute trust in me, a stranger, with their hard earned money to do the right thing. It’s been humbling. It’s surprised me a lot.”

For information, email Jost at leapdesign(at)catt.com. T-shirts can be bought at Gateway Bank, Unique Things and United Gift Shop in Ringgold.

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