Kentucky Jewish Federation fundraising for tornado-affected communities

'It feels so personal that people have very quickly stepped forward to support the initiative,' said federation vice president Stacy Gordon-Funk.

A US flag is tied to a fallen tree in front of a destroyed residence in the aftermath of a tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky, US, December 13, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/ADREES LATIF)
A US flag is tied to a fallen tree in front of a destroyed residence in the aftermath of a tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky, US, December 13, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ADREES LATIF)

The Jewish community in Kentucky has stepped up in the aftermath of one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in recent US history, a system that killed at least 74 people in Kentucky and at least 14 elsewhere.

Stacy Gordon-Funk, VP and chief philanthropy officer at the Jewish Federations of Louisville – about 180 miles from the affected area – said Wednesday that the federations had partnered with the Red Cross to collect donations from community members to support relief efforts.

Gordon-Funk added that the federation wasn’t specifically concerned about the Jewish community.

“We were concerned more as a state and as a community and as a people to help. And so we partner very quickly with the Red Cross, which we have a close relationship with,” she said. “We, together, came up with some mechanism for funding, so we opened up a mailbox and sent out an email that went out right after Shabbat on Saturday night at about 5:30 in our community, and we have had an overwhelming response.

“I cannot even express in words the generosity of those people within our community and the overwhelming response throughout the United States,” said Gordon-Funk.

The aftermath of a tornado is seen in downtown Mayfield, Kentucky, US, December 12, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/ADREES LATIF)The aftermath of a tornado is seen in downtown Mayfield, Kentucky, US, December 12, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/ADREES LATIF)

She noted that several foundations were quick to submit paperwork to make foundation gifts.

“We had a gentleman from New York call; he wanted to house people, if needed, in New York – he was going to get them flown there or driven there,” Gordon-Funk recalled. “We’ve had people from all over the country who wanted to give food and items, not only just financial support. We had a woman call from South Florida who wanted to come and stay with somebody and volunteer and help. It has been overwhelming. On Christmas Day, we’re planning to go to some of the hardest-hit counties and take some homemade Christmas dinner.”

She said that while the initial goal was to raise $50,000, she is “very confident” that the community will end up exceeding this amount.

Gordon-Funk noted that the money goes directly to the Red Cross.

“They do a lot of disaster recovery, and really have the systems and the people in place to mobilize very quickly,” she said.

According to Gordon-Funk, “this has been so universal and has hit home to so many just because I think we all know it could have been – by the grace of God – it could have been me. It feels so personal that people have very quickly stepped forward to support the initiative.”

President Joe Biden toured Kentucky on Wednesday to survey the areas hardest hit by the tornado. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear offered a grim update on Tuesday, saying the dead included a dozen children, the youngest of whom was a two-month-old infant. He said he expected the death toll to rise in the coming days, with more than 100 still missing.

The president’s goal was to survey storm damage and make sure the US government is doing everything it can to deliver assistance as quickly as possible to the hard-hit areas, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on the flight from Washington.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent search-and-rescue and emergency response teams to Kentucky, along with teams to help survivors register for assistance.

FEMA has also sent dozens of generators into the state, along with 511,000 liters of water, 74,000 meals and thousands of cots, blankets, infant toddler kits and pandemic shelter kits.

Mayfield was the hardest hit of several western Kentucky communities in the 320 km. path of a twister that turned cities into piles of debris that are now being hauled away by work crews and National Guard troops.

The city of 10,000 is under a boil-water order and accounts for more than one-third of the state’s 14,000 power outages. City council member Jana Adams said it would take seven to 10 days for crews to resurrect utility poles and hook up transmission lines.