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Arkansans assists Mississippi after 21 storm-related fatalities

KFSM Fort Smith 3/27/2023 Jose Carranza

Arkansans are headed to Rolling Fork, Mississippi to assist in disaster relief after Friday's tornado.

A tornado tore through the Magnolia state, especially the city of Rolling Fork— which many now say is gone. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency confirmed 21 storm-related fatalities.

Sheepdog Impact Assistance based in Rogers, Arkansas had a recon team in Mississippi on Saturday, and on Sunday they called for volunteers to help. Within 24 hours, the group planned to send three "strike teams" consisting of 20 members to the area.

"Total devastation across that whole area. So we're gonna go down to see what we can do to help," said Jeff Watts, director of disaster response. "We'll be conducting chainsaw operations and debris removals. Just whatever needs to happen on site."

Through their Meals that Matter Program, Tyson is partnering with Walmart to aid in the effort. The team rolled out on Monday and will begin serving hot meals to storm victims, volunteers, and first responders on Tuesday starting at noon.

They'll serve and distribute 500,000 pounds of protein along with bulk donations of protein and ice at the South Delta Elementary School.

"We'll stay on-site to serve not only serve meals but to set up a meal distribution for the immediate area and outlying areas. But then we also set up an on-site distribution site, where we're distributing product, again to other agencies, responding to the disaster," said Patrick Bourke of Tyson.

Stuart Rowland of Stu's Clean Cookin has taken it into his own hands to provide support for those headed out. 

"They can work a whole lot more efficiently if they have their own support," said Rowland. "In the restaurant business steps equal money and time. And so if we can feed them on site, they can work a whole lot more efficiently and be a lot more effective for the victims."

The local business owner was a military medic from 2005 to 2011. Afterward, he was a full-time mechanic when he decided to share the meals that helped him lose weight.

"I found it to be the most empowering thing that I've ever done and it felt like I could help other people," said Rowland. "From there, it's just kind of fed onto, well, I'm helping people get healthy, how else can I help my community."

When asked what's driving these organizations to help, some volunteers tell 5NEWS it's their calling. 

"We never want disaster to happen. You never want bad things to happen to people. But you've got an organization that is ready to respond," said Watts. "Whether you're in uniform, or mom and dad are helping their neighbor down the road, we're a whole nation of sheepdogs."

"Somebody has to do it, why not me. That's what it comes down to, if I was in their situation, I would hope somebody drive from a different state to help me out. But you know, you got to lead by example. And that's where we're coming from is— showing people that there is good in the world, and that there is help out there and that there are people that are just willing to just do whatever it takes," said Rowland.

All organizations deployed on Monday, and are planning to stay at least through Friday. For those at home, they suggest making a donation to disaster relief. 

You can do so through the Sheepdog website and American Red Cross of Arkansas website. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has also compiled a complete list of information on registering for assistance, volunteering, and donating on its website.

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