DAWSON SPRINGS, Ky. (WANE) – The classic southern phrase “Bless your heart” is a compliment Ashley Jylland-Hade has been given many times this weekend.
The Fort Wayne local is among volunteers doing their part to help the Dawson Springs community recover from Kentucky’s recent tornado damage.
She spent her Saturday sorting through clothing donations at the Dawson Springs Jr/Sr High School, doing what she could to make an impact after a six-hour drive that she would repeat the next day.
“They were all in such good spirits and I don’t know how,” Jylland-Hade said of the southern Kentucky community.
She chose to visit the community of around 2,700 after joining a relief-focused Facebook group to support victims of the recent storms. She read a post saying that workers were being turned away from Mayfield because they had more than enough help- a good problem to have- but the small town an hour away was in urgent need of volunteers.
Once the location was decided, that was all it took for her to map out the weekend journey. The rest, she said, she would just figure out once she got there.
When her workplace found out about the impromptu solo trip, she was able to borrow a work car for the trip to save her own gas money.
Jylland-Hade began the road trip Friday night after work, making it to Dawson Springs in time to volunteer for 10 hours Saturday and drive back home Sunday.
She joined volunteers at the school, which was turned into a mall, as she described it. The gymnasium was filled with essentials like cases of water, and nearby were medical, hardware, and grocery sections.
“I have never seen that many cases of water in one place, ever,” Jylland-Hade said.
Another floor was dedicated to home goods like bedding, and another area with baby supplies like diapers, along with “the things you don’t think about needing until you don’t have access to them.”
The volunteer was assigned to donation sorting in a room dedicated to large-sized women’s clothing, which she says was memorable because there were so many donations that entire classrooms were devoted to each category of clothing.
Jylland-Hade was able to connect with several locals during her time in the southern state.
One woman stood out to her because of her optimism. Sorting through clothes together, Jylland-Hade said the local casually mentioned she has breast cancer, she is getting a mastectomy, and she just lost her home. But no one would guess anything was wrong because of her positive attitude.
In another encounter, a Missouri volunteer told Jylland-Hade about a man being treated for wounds covering both of his arms. The man got injured protecting his wife and daughter during the tornado as the family of three took shelter in a bathtub. The volunteer tending to the man’s wounds told Jylland-Hade the man physically pulled his family close to keep them safe from the strong winds, resulting in cuts from the debris.
She remembers seeing an American Legion building that was flattened, and the only thing in the area standing was a tank with an American flag.
She heard locals and volunteers alike encouraging each other with the words “Build back even stronger.”
Jylland-Hade said there are no words to describe the pictures she took. “The only way I can compare it is like trying to take pictures of the moon,” she said. “You can try but it does not do it justice.”
This was not her first time involved with disaster relief. She has led donation drives for Hurricane Harvey, and worked alongside friends after the Gatlinburg wildfires in an effort that included two full trailers of donations from Fort Wayne locals.
She said the recent storms wreaked havoc so quickly that there was no time to plan like she has in the past. Her solution was to go without spending time gathering help and to “be boots on the ground” for the city of Dawson Springs.
“The good in humanity I saw yesterday is unbelievable,” Jylland-Hade said.