A mother-son relief effort for Tuscaloosa tornado victims has grown from one van load of supplies into a drive to fill an 18-wheeler on Tuesday, with no signs of stopping after that.
James O'Dwyer was ready to finish his freshman year last week when a tornado ended exams, the school year and sent him out of Alabama without even packing up his dorm room. On Saturday, he drove back with a cargo van full of supplies. He and his mother, Susan O'Dwyer, were going to drive back to the University of Alabama to pack up his dorm room.
He convinced his mother not to head back there with an empty van. It didn't take much convincing, as the family has a habit of charitable acts. They took in Katrina victims.
That one van load has snowballed into something much bigger.
"We've got some people who are driving back to Tuscaloosa tomorrow, and they have an 18-wheeler with their company. And so they offered to let us fill it up," James said. "We can't really handle an 18-wheeler at my house."
Another new acquaintance of the O'Dwyers spoke with the Home Depot manager, who is allowing them to use the home improvement store's parking lot for staging.
The truck will be at the off Windward Parkway at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May.
"We will be collecting donations over there until we fill the truck, people stop coming or they kick us out of the parking lot," James said.
When Susan O'Dwyer returned home on Sunday, there were six large mattreses and already a half a cargo van load of donations.
"But more people are coming. I've gotten a couple of calls form people saying theya re on the way right now to my house to bring stuff," James said late Monday afternoon.
The needs are growing in Tuscaloosa. While the distribution centers are filling up with supplies, the need will remain long after people stop making donations, he said.
Non-perishable food items and tarps are needed.
"There's a lot of houses that are still standing, but their roofs are gone. It's supposed to rain today and later in the week," James said.
Big rolls of plastic sheeting also are needed, and flashlights with plenty of batteries.
"A lot of places don't have power," he said. "Another one is school supplies. A lot of public schools got destroyed, or their homes got destroyed."
James said he needs donations, and help to unload donations from cars and trucks, sort them and load them into the 18-wheeler.
"Also if people have boxes, storage containers of any kind they'd like to donate, we'll need those for transporting and storage as well," he said.
He hopes people will keep donating, but knows that as soon as something big comes along in the news–perhaps even Sunday night's announcement about Osama bin Laden's capture in death–the supplies might stop flowing.
"In a month, donations will be limited, but the need will be just as great, if not greater," he said.
After clearing out his dorm room on Sunday, he spent the afternoon looking for places to help. First he and a couple of friends took truckloads of ice to Alberta, a community outside of Tuscaloosa.
"The destruction over there is just unimaginable," James said.
In most places he saw a flattened landscape, with at most piles of debris.
"I couldn't believe how bad it was," he said.
The ice went to a relief tent where water and medical aid were being distributed. Pizza Hut had a truck giving out pizza for victims.
"And then that afternoon and that night we went and put tarps on people's roofs," he said.
They weren't even allowed into the worst areas, which were cordoned off by the National Guard.