Paying It Forward

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 15 months, you are well aware of the utter devastation and destruction that was inflicted not only upon our great state of Alabama but upon our own town of Cullman on April 27, 2011. A rash of deadly tornados swept through the state including one at 3:00 pm that ripped through the heart of downtown. Our town’s landscape was forever altered. Homes and businesses that have shaped our history for decades, destroyed. People’s lives where instantly changed but one thing remains clear, the spirit and character of the people, the thing that makes this place so very special, shown bright on that dark and stormy day.

Many downtown businesses were destroyed, others heavily damaged. Southern Accents took a significant hit. The front of our store was shattered, skylights blown out, inventory lost, but the building itself was spared and so were the lives of downtown residents, business owners and employees. While there were injuries, there were no fatalities downtown that day. We had been given several days warning of the impending storms but story after story will also testify to God’s hand of mercy upon the good people of our town.

Good people indeed… moments after the storm passed the streets were littered not only with massive amounts of debris, but people. The winds had barely died down when people poured from homes and shelters and began helping one another. People who had just lost their own home or business were helping those around them. Neighbors checking on neighbors. Strangers appeared from seemingly nowhere with supplies and offers of assistance. Almost immediately the buzz of chain saws filled the air. The storms had destroyed buildings but not the spirit and resilience of the people who call Cullman home.

A little over a year has passed. Some of the businesses that were destroyed have recently reopened. Others have relocated and some have decided that the losses were just too great to start over. Although the damage to Southern Accents was significantly less than many of our neighbors who suffered total losses, it took a full year for all of the repairs to be completed. During our year long recovery efforts we have been repeatedly overwhelmed with kindnesses and generosities shown to us by local folks as well as those outside our community. Countless times we’ve received financial gifts with no name attached, only a note declaring that the gift was from a friend with well wishes of love and prayers being lifted up on our behalf. For the many gifts, prayers, and well wishes we would like to offer a heartfelt thank you!

One gift in particular touched our hearts. Ava Quartararo, a 5th grade student from Pine Plains, New York, raised $100 among her classmates to help with our recovery efforts. Ava’s aunt, Elizabeth St. John is a resident of Cullman. Ava felt a special connection to our community and wanted to help. Ava presented her gift to Southern Accents owner, Garlan Gudger, last summer while she was here visiting. Now that we are back on our feet, Garlan wanted to take Ava’s gift and “pay it forward”. July 24 Garlan presented a check for $200 to Maddie Grimmett to repay part of the kindness he has been shown. Twelve year old Maddie is raising money to build a wheel chair lift at St. Paul’s school for a fellow schoolmate Will Fowler. Ava, who was in town for her annual summer visit, accompanied Garlan as he presented the check to Maddie and her father, Jason Grimmett. (pictured)

Maddie, who is described by friends and family as having a heart of a servant who wants to make the world a better place for others, caught our attention recently with her bright yellow lemonade stand. Maddie made national headlines 2 years ago when she raised over $20,000 selling her lemonade to aid the animals affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Recently, Maddie reopened her stand and focused her fund raising efforts on a local cause. When her schoolmate Will was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, Maddie took it upon herself to raise the $8,000 needed to build a chair lift which will make it easier for him to navigate the stairs at school. “Maddie’s Lemonade For a Cause” stand can be found on the corner of 312 9th Street SW where you will find Maddie pouring her ice cold lemonade on Wednesday and Friday afternoons from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. Maddie is the perfect embodiment of the caring and giving spirit that we have seen and continue to see in so many from our community as the tornado recovery efforts continue.

Were we surprised this past November when Cullman was recognized nationally when Bloomberg Businessweek named the city the best place to raise children in Alabama? We think not. Maddie Grimmett and others like her are a shining example of what makes our town so very special. Friday, August 3rd from 4:00 to 9:00 pm the second annual Celebrate Cullman will take place. We will gather once again to honor the spirit of our beloved town and the people who live here. So often it’s the storms in life that bring out the best in people… but we’ve known all along the capabilities of the people here in Cullman.

If you would like to contribute to Maddie’s fund raising efforts, you can stop by her lemonade stand for a glass of what has been called “the best lemonade I’ve ever had” or you can donate to the Maddie’s Lemonade For A Cause fund set up at First Community Bank.

2 responses to “Paying It Forward

  • Stacie Carter

    what a great post – made me tear up! thanks for sharing that info. stacie carter

  • Gina M

    I also have been on the receiving end of the kindness of strangers, after our home burned down in one of the California wildfires. I was able to “pay it forward” to a family that lost their home in Hurricane Katrina. Your town sounds like a great place full of kind people. I hope to be able to visit there someday. Thanks for sharing the information on Maddie’s endevour.

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