On the afternoon of March 2, more than 40 people gathered in the Salvation Army office on Inman Street in Cleveland, Tenn.
The forecasts looked bad, with high chance for tornadoes. These days, everyone in Cleveland pays grave attention to bad forecasts.
“I think they just wanted somewhere to go. They felt safe here,” said Salvation Army Sgt. Ruthie Forgey.
People in Cleveland trust Forgey and her crew at the Inman Street office. They have been everywhere in Bradley County over the past year, engaged in nonstop recovery work.
Last year, Forgey was hospitalized for potassium depletion that doctors attributed to overexertion after the April 27 tornadoes. Two days later, she was back in the Inman Street office.
“At that time, the needs were so urgent and so critical. I just thought we needed all hands on deck,” she said.
It’s hard for Forgey to summarize the year that has passed since those first blindingly hectic days.
It’s been a year of mourning, working with families who lost everything. She and the Salvation Army staff were dealt their own blow with the loss of the chapter’s 64-year-old social service coordinator, Ron Blankenship, who died of lung cancer in October.
“Ron was working around the clock after the tornadoes. He jumped in with both feet and worked and worked. He worked until the last day he was admitted to the hospital,” Forgey said.
The crew still grieves his passing. But for Forgey, this year also has been full of light.
“I’ve seen the goodness and kindness of people. Even the people who suffered in the storm. When they came to the distribution center, they would be so careful not to take something they thought someone else might need. Seeing that transforms you.”