Little Falls family vacations in Alabama to lend a hand for those affected by 2011 tornadoes

By SARAH LIDEEN, Staff Writer, sarah.lideen@ecm-inc.com 

On April 27, 2011, tornadoes swept across the southern states, ruining homes and taking lives. Four months later, a local family came to the rescue.

Pictured are front row: Tucker, left, and Jonah Olson. Back row: Aaron and Becky Olson. The Olsons stayed at a local campground in Huntsville, Ala. while helping with relief efforts from the devastating tornadoes that hit the south in April 2011.

“When the tornadoes hit, we wanted to help,” said Becky Olson of Little Falls.

Olson, who home schools her two children, Tucker, 10, and Jonah, 6, had been teaching the boys about Alabama in recent lessons. After discussing it with her husband, Aaron, the family decided to take a family vacation to Huntsville, Ala. to help.

Olson began her search for organizations that could connect them to cleanup efforts and was recommended to WAFF, a local television station in Huntsville. Staff at the station then put Olson in contact with an organization called KeepVolunteering.org.

“They connect people that need help with people who want to help,” said Olson.

The family arrived and were instantly greeted and assigned to a woman who needed help clearing debris from her home in order for contractors to begin rebuilding it.

“I think it’s our first family vacation we ever went on where we brought a chainsaw and work gloves,” said Olson.

The woman’s roof showed signs of water damage, in some places completely destroyed, while all but one window in her home was broken.

“She was so grateful for help, but it was humbling knowing you’re cleaning someone’s house and what you’re carrying out is garbage,” said Olson.

Olson’s son, Tucker, celebrated his 10th birthday that day, and said that being able to help someone else was the best gift he could have gotten.

“The kids never complained once,” said Olson.

Throughout the cleanup, Olson’s sons were consistently finding pennies in the debris and began collecting them and placing them on the woman’s counter.

“They said it was so she could buy what she needed,” said Olson.

Upon returning home, Olson was able to enroll the help of kids in the Awana Club to bring in their own pennies.

“We had over $14 in pennies,” said Olson, who sent the money back to the woman.

The woman was out of her home for eight months before she was able to move back in.

The second home the Olson’s were assigned to was in a newer neighborhood where fireplaces and in-ground swimming pools stood alone with no homes to claim them.

The couple they were assigned to help was generous and hospitable, offering them lemonade and food, meanwhile their living room floor sat propped up on two tree trunks.

The day the tornadoes hit, the couple had invited their elderly neighbors over, hoping their home would be more safe. Unfortunately, the unpredictable behavior of a tornado devastated the home and their neighbor, Fred, did not make it.

The Olsons helped clean debris and search for a lost mother’s ring that the woman had lost, but never found.

“It really wrenched my heart,” said Olson.

On the last day of the trip, Olson describes it as leaving a friend, but their generosity did not stop there.

A member of First Baptist Church, Olson was able to get more people involved with the efforts she began in Alabama.

“I knew I wanted to send things from home because necessities are replaced before non-necessities,” said Olson. “They get the basics back, but what about the decorative things?”

Women from her church made doilies and helped monetarily to send care packages.

“How much homier can you get than with a doily?” said Olson, who embarked on her own mission to replace the lost mother’s ring.

Before leaving, Olson had asked the woman for her daughters’ birth dates, remembering them for the purpose of finding their birthstones: diamond, ruby and topaz.

Olson visited a pawn shop where she found a ring with a diamond and ruby and one missing stone. Purchasing the ring as it was, Olson went to a local jeweler, who then donated the topaz stone for the ring after hearing the story behind it.

“You don’t need to have a lot of stuff to give, just the desire to give,” said Olson.

Boxes filled with doilies, oven mitts, homemade jams and other non-necessity items, including the mother’s ring, were sent to WAFF to deliver to the families they had helped. The station delivered the boxes right after Christmas, four months after the Olsons had returned home, and every person recalled their generosity.

“I don’t want people to think we have halos,” said Olson. “Just don’t wait around for someone to ask you to help. Go and roll your sleeves up and be ready to get to work.”

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