Alabama church mourns teenager, ministers to family after tornado
More than 1,000 mourners attended Katie’s funeral March 5.
“Don’t ever let a minute go by without hugging and telling your children how much you love them,” Dirk Strunk said through tears, addressing the crowd.
Micheal Felker, her former campus minister, said Katie always had a smile on her face. “She lived for her savior,” he wrote on his blog.
As of press time, more than $80,000 had been given to funds for the Strunk family and Enterprise tornado relief.
“It is needed and appreciated, believe me,” Ellis said. “Our elders are committed to making sure the funds are put to the best use, as is the Strunk family.”
HELPING A DEVASTATED COMMUNITY
The tornado, with winds up to 167 miles per hour, cut a 10-mile swath about 200 yards wide through the community of 25,000 people. The storm destroyed 236 homes and damaged two schools. Nine people died as a result of injuries.
In the week following the storm, the city’s population doubled as about 25,000 volunteers made their way to the southeast Alabama town to help with cleanup, repairs and relief work.
The College Avenue church partnered with Tennessee-based Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort and Ohio-based Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team to work with those hit hardest, Ellis said.
“Already, I’m seeing lots cleared and debris removed to the point where you can see only concrete slabs remaining of houses that were destroyed,” Ellis said in an interview 11 days after the tornado hit. “I would like to think we’re at post-disaster normal now, able to focus on the long recovery process.”
College and high school groups had planned to participate in cleanup during their Spring Break vacations, with lodging provided by Camp Wiregrass in nearby Chancellor, Ala.
“When you consider the loss of life, the number of homes and businesses destroyed and the ways people have been affected in a place the size of Enterprise, you understand the need for help of all kinds,” he said.
SENDING EFFECTIVE AID
But churches planning to send help should to be aware of the community’s specific needs, Ellis added.
“Bottled water isn’t necessary, because our supply wasn’t affected,” he said, “and we just don’t have the space to distribute clothing. But building materials and money to buy those type things are very much needed.”
The congregation and the Strunk family also covet prayers and messages of support, Ellis said, adding that Kathy Strunk isn’t emotionally able now to return to her teaching job at the high school.
“She was … literally feet away from where Katie and the others lost their lives,” Ellis said. “Her classroom was the last one on that hallway. As you can imagine, she’s struggling and grieving and questioning.”
The minister said he was especially encouraged to see the Strunks at worship on March 11. Around them sat four families who were touched in some way by Katie’s life or the stories they had read about the church in news reports.
“To see people coming that quickly afterward and for such pointed reasons was a little surprising,” Ellis said. “But it just reinforces for us that we have an opportunity to reach out to others now, and that’s what God would have us do.”
DONATIONS MAY BE SENT to the Strunk Family Fund or Enterprise Disaster Relief Fund, c/o College Avenue Church of Christ, P.O. Box 311470, Enterprise, AL 36331.