The first tornado that tore through Bradley County the morning of April 27 had barely passed when Salvation Army Sgt. Ruthie Forgey jumped in her van, speeding out to deliver food and comfort kits to families hit by the storm.
Forgey was assisting one family whose roof had been blown off their duplex when a group of emergency workers drove through and started yelling “Get out of here! Another one’s coming!” Forgey and another volunteer gathered the family into their van and drove to a sheltered area while another tornado dealt the county a crippling blow.
Forgey wasted no time trying to absorb everything. She headed straight back to the shelter and jumped into response mode. The next morning she helped make 2,600 sandwiches. She helped get a distribution center set up, started coordinating meals and helped organize the first waves of volunteers. She became a matchmaker, connecting people in need with services. She went to people’s homes to pray with them. Her phone never stopped ringing. She pulled 16-hour days — every day — and it still didn’t seem like enough.
“People will have no place, and Ruthie will find them a place. They’ll have no food, and she’ll find them food,” said Andy Anderson, chairman of the local Salvation Army’s advisory board.
On Tuesday, Forgey noticed an odd flutter in her heart. She stopped by her doctor’s office in the middle of her errand-running, and the doctor called an ambulance.
But she wasn’t ready to quit.
“Ruthie was sitting in the back of the ambulance, and she was still on that cell phone, trying to get people connected. We ended up having to steal the phone from her,” Anderson said.
Doctors found Forgey had a potassium depletion, from failing to feed herself properly during the hectic week. Her prognosis is good, but she’s supposed to take it easier and watch her nutrition.
Once she’s released from the hospital, Forgey plans to take one more day to rest, then get back to relief efforts.
“What keeps me going is that I know there are people who need someone to listen to them. There are people who need a hug. There are people who need a sense of direction,” Forgey said. “What else could I do but try to help them?”