FLINT TWP — Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the Beecher tornado, one of the deadliest storms in U.S. history that cut a 27-mile-long path of destruction through northern Genesee County, leaving 116 dead, 844 injured, more than 600 homes and buildings destroyed or damaged and about $19 million in damage.
In the aftermath, disaster relief poured in from all over to help with stabilizing, relocation and rebuilding the devastated community.
On a smaller but no less devastating scale, tornado activity ripped through Genesee County last week leaving behind homeless families and serious structural damage. Likewise, cities in Oklahoma suffered two catastrophic storms in a one-week time span.
Now as in 1953, the community has stepped forward to help those in need. They include children, businesses, non-profit and government relief workers.
Flint Township emerged unscathed by last week’s severe weather but is the epicenter of several relief efforts.
“We dodged a bullet,” said Flint Township Fire Chief John Ringwelski of destructive tornadoes that touched down just south and north of here.
The Banana Bricks, a robotics team, at Carman- Ainsworth Randels Elementary School had already planned a fundraiser for Oklahoma tornado victims before the local tornadoes hit, creating a need closer to home.
The group planned a bottle and can collection drive at the VGs grocery story on Corunna Road last Saturday and Sunday with proceeds going to Feed the Children, an Oklahoma City-based charity that has established a fund to support relief efforts there. For every $50 raised, Feed the Children will be able to put together relief packages valued at $250.
After tornadoes struck locally, the Banana Bricks also partnered with the United Way of Genesee County and Catholic Charities of Shiawassee & Genesee Counties to assist local victims.
“It only makes sense that our fund-raising efforts include helping people in our own community,” said Tom Wickham, the Banana Bricks coach, which is cosponsored by General Motors’ Flint Manufacturing Operations.
“We raised more than $800 over the weekend, which will be split between the Catholic Charities for the Flint Victims and Feed the Children for the Oklahoma victims,” Wickham said. He expects the fundraising total to top $1,000 based on cash donations others have pledged.
Additionally, United Way pitched in $5,000 from money people donate when filing their state tax returns, said Jamie Gaskin, CEO of the United Way of Genesee County.
Catholic Charities will use the funds donated by the United Way and the Banana Bricks to ensure tornado victims have access to the Catholic Charities Community Closet, where people can get clothes, food and personal (hygiene) products, Wickham said.
For more information about supporting the Randels robotics students’ fund-raising efforts, contact Wickham at 248-707-9064 or firstname.lastname@example.org
In a separate effort, GM announced Tuesday that its employees nationwide have raised approximately $28,500 in plant collections to help Oklahoma victims. To date, $8,700 of that total came from workers at Flint Manufacturing, according to a press release from Wickham, GM Plant Communications Manager for Flint Engine Operations, Flint Assembly, Flint Metal Center, Flint Tool & Die and Grand Blanc Weld Tool Center.
The donations will go to Detroitbased Forgotten Harvest’s “Help 4 Oklahoma” campaign — a partnership created by Forgotten Harvest, the General Motors Foundation, Chevrolet, Art Van, Detroit-area media, Garden Fresh Gourmet, Absopure and Great Lakes Wines & Spirits.
The GM Foundation made the lead donation of $50,000. Chevrolet joined in with a donation of a 2013 Silverado full size pickup that will be instrumental in the implementation of the effort.
Additionally, GM employees have spent time raising funds to help victims of Flint-areas tornadoes where an estimated $2.5 million in damages included more than 100 homes damaged or destroyed, according to the press release.
Flint-area GM plants have raised more than $1,400 for victims in Flint with additional fund- raisers planned.