On April 27, 2011, deadly tornadoes swept across the state of Alabama leaving a wake of deadly destruction. I watched the online stream as a massive tornado touched down in Tuscaloosa, AL (my college Alma mater), moved on to destroy my late Father’s home in Concord and then to the little town where I’d grown up, Pleasant Grove. The deadly storms of that day had taken direct aim at every Alabama town I had called home.
After over 6 weeks of digging through rubble and cleaning what had once been my Father’s home (this YouTube video tells that story), I went back to my Atlanta home and began working with the Pleasant Grove Tornado Updates Facebook page on putting together a book documenting the destruction in Pleasant Grove. I knew that we had been through a historic event and survived; I knew there was a story to tell.
We started taking submissions in mid-June and the response was shocking. I had budgeted and planned to do a 50 page book, but suddenly had enough content to put together well over 100 pages. I scaled back, I edited and as I did, the submissions continued to steadily flow in.
I set up www.pleasantgrovetornadobook.com to take orders online and let news of the project spread through Facebook and word of mouth.
I knew the more books we printed, the cheaper they would be…but I thought we’d be lucky to get 100 orders (especially after my mom, aunt, grandmother, etc. each bough a copy! 😉 ) But 100 orders turned into 250 orders…and before I could even get the books printed in September, the 500 that I had ordered were sold out.
As quickly as they sold out, I knew a second printing was in order. I set up the webpage again for orders and went back to Facebook to plug the book. I contacted the churches to ask them to run information on the book in the church bulletins and put flyers all over the city.
I was contacted by ABC 33/40 and The Birmingham News as they did ‘Stories of Hope’ marking the 6 month anniversary of the storms. Honora Gathing’s at ABC 33/40 put together an amazing video-piece on the book and 2 of the survivors that had submitted stories. We had so much to be proud of in Pleasant Grove, and it was lovely to see the media recognize that.
The next week, a story ran in the Western section of The Birmingham News. While the tv-news piece was touching, the newspaper article reached the masses. In the days following the article, orders exploded. And as I was questioning even ordering another 500 books (who wants to be stuck with hundreds of books to sell?), 500 sold out right before my eyes. The day after I placed the order for 500, I had to call the printers back and up the quantity to 750. The response was amazing!
As this project progressed, the numbers became overwhelming. I had no idea it would grow so large. In all, we printed and distributed 1200 books, a far cry from my original hope of 100 orders!
This project was a true labor of love. I started it as something to volunteer my time to and ended up running a full-blown publishing & shipping house behind the scenes. I learned the pressure of deadlines, the importance of proofing (not only words but images), the challenges of customer service and the difficulties of bulk shipping. It was a learning process every step of the way and I am so very thankful for the experience.
After all the books are distributed and all the bills are paid, I’m so very proud to say that this project raised $5,000 for Pleasant Grove! We donated $1,000 to United Methodist of Pleasant Grove, First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove, Pleasant Grove Assembly of God, Bethel Baptist and the Pleasant Grove Masonic Lodge. These were the organizations that I felt helped us the very most during the storm and who I knew could get the money directly back into the community.
While this project was my baby, I couldn’t have done it alone. Super special thanks to my dear friends Jill Rooney, Nicole Snow and Nancy Meeks for volunteering their design and editing services; to my sweet Mom for overseeing the finances & helping stuff many priority mail envelopes; to my awesome Aunt Roxann for being in charge of ‘local distribution’; to Pleasant Grove First Baptist for so graciously letting us use their facilities for local pick up; to Tonia Davis-Evans for encouraging me every step of the way; to Premier Copy/Atlanta Book Printing for being so generous on pricing, to all the survivors who submitted stories and images; and to every one who purchased a book. None of the would have been possible without each and every one of you. Thank You!
At this time, books are completely sold out and there are no plans for another printing. Books are available to check out at The Birmingham Public Library and the Pleasant Grove Public Library.