WALTHALL COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - James Edward Bates is known across South Mississippi for his volunteer efforts, often helping to feed people in disaster-stricken areas.
Now, he’s in Walthall County, Miss., where devastating tornadoes left multiple people dead and numerous properties destroyed on Easter Sunday. But this time, it’s personal.
Bates has family there and is now feeding them, along with others in the community.
“I’m here at Sartinville United Methodist Church where we’re serving hot meals with the Giving BAK Foundation, and just a few miles down the road is our family property where my aunt, uncle and cousin rode out the storm in a double wide mobile home,” said Bates in an interview with WLOX Tuesday morning.
“By the grace of God, they lived through that. Unfortunately, neighbors within sight of them passed away during the storm. Three neighbors in two separate houses passed away. My cousin’s mobile home was completely destroyed right next to his parents, and I mean the frame of the home looks like a twizzler stick. It’s hard to identify there was a home there at all."
“They huddled up in the bathroom. (Bates’ cousin) had been outside. His girlfriend called him and said you have to get in shelter now. She knew a tornado was coming. He got his parents and they sheltered in the bathroom. The roof blew off their mobile home while they were huddled in that bathroom praying together. And I’m just very thankful that they’re here."
The Giving BAK Foundation is a nonprofit based out of Shreveport, La. that provides meals to people after natural disasters strike. The nonprofit is teaming up with numerous other businesses and organizations to help the Mississippi tornado victims, said Bates.
“We try our best to come in as fast as we can to feed meals as soon as we can. So we started with lunch yesterday. We fed about 300 pulled pork sandwiches for lunch yesterday here at the church. Word has gotten out in the community that we’re here. We did dinner last night, barbecue pork loin and probably did maybe 450 meals last night."
“The outpouring of support has been tremendous. Sanderson Farms is sending us chicken today that we’ll be cooking. We cooked pulled pork butts overnight last night. We’re just doing our best to provide hot meals when we can.”
“There are a lot of volunteers here in the community. Businesses and individuals have stepped up. I was out at my family’s property yesterday. It’s just amazing to see. There were about 20 people at my uncle’s farm. He had a dairy farm - it had been closed for a while. All the equipment there was destroyed. They still have cattle; the fencing was down, their cattle were scattered. But the community came together and they were helping them round up the cows and just trying to help them put their lives back together.”
Bates said the community has been so grateful to have volunteers there helping.
“They’re very thankful. They’re appreciative that we’re here. And we’re only here because of the support of the people like friends who give us supplies to be here. The Giving BAK Foundation partners with local churches after disasters, so we want to build up the local church and help them help their community. Our neighbors here in the Sartinville area want to know how to help. They’re giving. Even those who have been affected are bringing us supplies and they want to know how they can help their neighbors.”