Card received by The Foodbank after assisting a family affected by tornado damage in Dayton last week. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

More than $300K donated for tornado relief: ‘An outpouring of support’

Relief efforts will last months ‘as we go through this devastation,’ local leader says.

More than a week after a devastating round of tornadoes, hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid already has been raised to help local recovery efforts.

One nonprofit group, however, was touched most by a single contribution.

A Dayton mother and her children who got help at The Foodbank dropped off a thank you card Tuesday.

“My family and I came through with nothing and left with more than we can imagine,” wrote the mother.

Her son wrote in the card: “I want to thank you for helping my family, me, my mom, and my sister. It means so much to me. Here is my last dollar, give it to someone who needs it.”

MORE: Community-by-community assessment of tornado damage: What they are saying

Tornadoes left many in dire need across Montgomery, Greene and Miami counties. And while many are putting their backs into helping neighbors clean up, others are backing relief efforts with food and monetary donations to help area families — including untold hundreds put out of their homes.

Area nonprofit leaders say donations are coming in so quickly many haven’t been able to process it all and arrive at clear totals, but some specific examples show the outpouring of support.

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Rotary, Dayton Foundation near $250K

A majority of hands went up Monday at a Rotary Club of Dayton luncheon when the president asked how many people knew someone affected by the tornadoes. Before the event was over, its members had pledged another $33,000 on top of $12,000 in contributions already received.

“We had a lot of highs and lows last week. The Memorial Day holiday started out wonderful with family and friends and laughter, and quickly that evening, we hit a low point,” said Rick Wegmann, the club president. “But then the following day our neighbors were grappling with the devastation and destruction. We had organizations – private, public, for profit, nonprofit — and individuals that came together to start supporting the community.”

Matthew Roll returns a pallet truck down narrow aisle at The Foodbank where donations have filled the giant warehouse in response to the needs of those displaced by tornados that ripped through the area on Memorial Day. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The Rotary Memorial Day Tornado Relief fund is being led by the Dayton club and the Dayton Rotary Foundation, which is matching the first $50,000 raised, but has support from more than 50 clubs in its district, Wegmann said. The money will flow directly to the Dayton Chapter of the American Red Cross for local tornado relief.

Cory Paul, executive director at American Red Cross for the Dayton area, said he doesn’t yet have a tabulation for the amount donated for area tornado relief.

“I have been doing this for eight years, and it’s different when it hits your hometown where you live,” Paul said. “I am so impressed with our community, our donors, our volunteers who are really stepping up to help. Everybody is doing all they can.”

MORE: Dayton-area tornadoes: Federal disaster money not coming soon but process started

Hundreds of people have donated to a relief fund set up at the Dayton Foundation, including one person who walked in on Monday and made an anonymous donation to help those in a nearby devastated neighborhood, said Gina Sandoval, a foundation spokeswoman.

The Greater Dayton Disaster Relief Fund is hovering around $200,000 but is sure to grow, Sandoval said.

“We’ve had such an outpouring of support that we are just trying to process everything right now,” she said.

The foundation immediately made grants to the Red Cross’ Dayton and Celina chapters as well as St. Vincent DePaul and The Foodbank.

The Foodbank is also getting monetary donations from far and wide but is still sorting them and could not provide a running total, according to the organization.

PHOTOS: Tornado outbreak in Miami Valley

Switching to long-term recovery

The Foodbank’s most surprising donations came through Twitter, according to spokeswoman Lora Davenport.

Comedian Mike Birbiglia asked the Twitter community how to help out Dayton tornado relief efforts and then decided to donate to The Foodbank. He encouraged others to join in, hoping to raise $20,000. Big names such as John Legend, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Lin Manuel Miranda and others joined in, raising more than $55,000 in under 24 hours.

Since the tornadoes hit, The Foodbank has received an estimated 1,295,040 bottles of water, 52,000 pounds of nonperishable food and 29,900 pounds of hygiene items. More than 1,300 vehicles have been served at The Foodbank’s drive-through pantry.

More nonperishable food and hygiene items are needed for what is expected to be a long recovery, according to The Foodbank.

The Foodbank in partnership with Cox Media Group Ohio, which owns the Dayton Daily News, will operate mobile food pantries in the hardest-hit areas in coming days. The first is Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. at the Dixie Drive In, 6201 North Dixie Dr.

The need will not diminish in the coming weeks, and more and more businesses are holding fundraising promotions and events, Sandoval said.

“There are some immediate needs now but then we are switching to long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts,” she said.

MORE: Beavercreek maps tornado’s 14-square-mile ‘path of destruction’

Money will be needed for months

Donations are best directed to established and known organizations with experience running relief campaigns, said John North, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Dayton and Miami Valley.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t give to others, so long as you’re aware who’s behind the effort, North said.

“There may your church that you are affiliated with, you have a trusting close relationship with the people there raising money,” he said. “So you ought to be comfortable with the elders within the church that they’re doing the right thing.”

MORE: A look back at 3 of the most devastating tornadoes in Ohio history

North said beware of those going door to door posing as sound-alike charitable causes or using pressure tactics to get a quick donation. Legitimate charities, who are helping victims already, will give donors the opportunity to take their time to give, he said.

“Your dollars are certainly needed now, but they are going to be needed well into the future as we go through this devastation here,” North said.

Michelle Riley, CEO of The Foodbank, said the need will stay elevated for six months to a year — maybe longer for some.

“Families have lost their homes and livelihoods,” she said. “For some, it may take years to get back on their feet … With the community’s support, we can make sure no one has to go hungry.”

Staff Writer Amelia Robinson contributed to this story

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