Soon after an EF-2 tornado ripped through Murray County late on Easter Sunday, chaplain Lorena Bowers started making phone calls to see how AdventHealth Murray could help.
“I called about seven of the Baptist churches in Murray County with whom I had connections and asked, ‘How can we help you?’” said Bowers, pastoral care coordinator at AdventHealth Murray.
The churches had already coordinated relief efforts for the victims of the tornado, which killed seven people and damaged more than 250 homes and buildings in Chatsworth and other areas served by the hospital. Bowers was tasked with helping Calvary Baptist Church collect clothing and personal care items to distribute to those who lost their homes and belongings in the storm.
“Our mission statement is ‘Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ,’” she said. “This means we don’t just take care of our patients. When we see a need in our community, we want to step up, step in and come alongside. This is what Christ did for humanity, and He calls us at AdventHealth Murray to do the same. We cannot meet everyone’s needs, but we can help one person at a time.”
Bowers started close to home, asking the staff at AdventHealth Murray to donate what they could spare from their closets or to purchase new underwear, socks or personal hygiene items.
“I would come to work and the [donation] box would be full, or someone would have given gift cards,” she said. “I delivered quite a few boxes.”
She also reached out to community partners and acquaintances to garner additional support for the relief effort.
“I liaisoned with a store in Chattanooga called Kid to Kid,” Bowers said. “The owner is a friend of mine, and they run a pre-loved clothing store. And as a result of that connection, she donated to us. We drove up and she gave me a pick-up [truck] full of children’s clothing and we delivered that to Calvary Baptist.”
Janice Steelman, Calvary Baptist’s tornado relief coordinator, said those efforts ensured the church had an abundance of clothing for tornado victims.
“We would have had to buy clothes had Lorena not stepped up to the plate,” she said.
Steelman also worked with Bowers to coordinate medical care for those injured in the storm who were unable to get to the hospital because fallen trees had destroyed their vehicles or were blocking the roads.
“Some of those people could have died just from their injuries and wounds,” Steelman said. “I think the Lord worked on Lorena’s end in sending her and the health care part.”
In addition, the hospital also provided boxes to the church, which volunteers used to create care packages that could then easily be distributed to those in need.
Steelman also credited Bowers with putting the church in touch with other community resources, which allowed it to provide 75 families with clothing, furniture, gift cards to area restaurants and grocery stores, shoes, bedding and other items. Bowers’ husband, executive director of the nearby Cohutta Springs Conference Center, donated bunk beds, for instance.
“It was really a valiant effort on everybody in our community, but Lorena was so great in coordinating me with the right people,” Steelman said. “When the Lord uses us, He uses hands and feet and not just one set of hands…This could never have been done by just one person. When you’re in a community, it’s like a nucleus working together.”
Well into May, Bowers continued to direct financial and other donations to the various organizations overseeing those collections.
“When we reach out to help, it’s like this lovely ripple effect,” she said.
A surplus of donated children’s clothing, for instance, was able to be passed along to Murray County Schools to be distributed to students in need of back-to-school clothes.
“Many people are being helped, not just tornado victims,” she said. “It touched my heart, and I felt so privileged to be able to do what we could.”
Bowers, who has worked at AdventHealth Murray since 2016, said the hospital has a long history of helping out neighbors in times of need, and community partners, particularly the area’s faith community, have reciprocated when called upon to provide assistance, often at a moment’s notice.
“Those relationships are so very important to connect to in the community,” she said. “One of the things we looked at is how can we help with food. How can we help with the people’s needs?”
Over the summer, the hospital created a clothing closet, and Bowers spearheaded an “Undy Monday” campaign to encourage people to donate new underwear and socks to stock it.
“One way we are committed to fulfilling our mission of Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ is by helping to provide necessities for our patients,” a flyer promoting the campaign stated.
Bowers credited the generosity of hospital staff and administrators, who dedicated seed money for the project, with making the campaign a success.
“I’ve never worked in a place where the people were so kind and generous and willing to help,” she said. “We’re able to keep a modest supply of items to hand out.”
When case managers identify a patient in need of help, Bowers said they visit the closet to collect a bagful of appropriately sized clothing for that person. A simple outfit consisting of a T-shirt, shorts or pants, flip-flops or foam clogs, underwear and socks are included, along with basic toiletries and a few nonperishable food items, when they are available.
“We try very hard to make sure the clothes are very neutral so a man or a woman could wear them,” she said.
While the closet serves people being cared for in the hospital, Bowers said AdventHealth Murray’s team has also lent a helping hand to families struggling to make ends meet around the holidays.
In addition to providing Christmas gifts for nursing home residents of the nearby Chatsworth Healthcare Center, the hospital has also partnered with Murray County Schools to identify students in need of assistance during the holidays.
The hospital set up a “store” filled with donated toys and clothing and then invited the parents of those students to select their children’s Christmas gifts. Once the selections had been made, volunteers wrapped the gifts for the families.
“One lady came in and she said, ‘Oh, you’ve got Christmas for lots of families,’ and the staff said, ‘No, ma’am, this is for your family,’” Bowers said. “They took home a whole carful of wrapped gifts.”
In addition to the gifts, each of the families was provided with a $100 gift card to Food City, as well as a basket of homemade baked goods donated by Cohutta Springs.
Similarly, Bowers also participated in a hospital wide effort in which each department worked together to provide gifts and meals to families
facing tough times during the holidays.
“We got a name and we got their information and bought everything accordingly,” Bowers said. “Two years ago, we identified two of our own employees who were going through some really, really difficult times. Not only did we provide Christmas for community families, but two hospital families too.”
Bowers said the hospital’s community outreach work is an important part of AdventHealth’s whole person approach to health care and contributes to the community’s overall wellbeing.
“It’s about how can we help you to heal and offer our support so you feel like you’re cared about,” she said. “We have worked hard to make Murray an amazing place and we’re proud to work here. I’m excited to be a part of the team, as we all have worked together to make positive changes for Murray and the community.”