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Western Kentuckians find community and holiday spirit in the wake of tornadoes

Stephanie Wolf

Families impacted by the deadly tornadoes in western Kentucky are picking up donated toys this week ahead of Christmas. 

At Kenlake State Resort Park in Hardin, where people displaced by the storms have been able to find food and shelter, thousands of brand-new toys, most still in their boxes, have been piled high on tables: dolls, games, stuffed animals, plus personal items, like lotions and lip balms. 

Santa was also on-site.

Paula Laird has been staying at the park after losing her home, one county over, in Mayfield. She’s shopping for her grandkids, and said it feels great to be able to get them Christmas presents in spite of so much loss.

“I think both of them would look at me and say, ‘Gigi, we understand,’” Laird said. “I really do think that. But it’s nice to be able to give them something.”

She said the week-plus since tornadoes ripped through western Kentucky, leaving behind massive damage and killing more than 70 people, has “been almost like a dream.”

“You want to wake up, but you can’t,” Laird said. 

First Lady Britainy Beshear launched Western Kentucky Toy Drive last week, and distribution of the donated toys began Tuesday with makeshift shops set up at several locations, including Kenlake State Resort Park, Lake Barkley State Resort Park in Cadiz, Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park in Dawson Springs, Hope House Ministries at Stryker Logistics in Bowling Green and West Kentucky Educational Cooperative in Eddyville.


Christy Mattingly, a volunteer with First Baptist Church in Murray, helped coordinate the toy drive shop at Kenlake State Resort Park.

She said it was packed when they opened Tuesday morning.

“This is our second load of toys that we’re bringing in,” she said around midday.

While food and shelter was and continues to be a priority, Mattingly said this toy drive is important.

“These people have gone through things that I just can’t imagine… until you see it, you just cannot even imagine the loss and destruction,” she said. “So for them to have something, it’s Christmas, to bring them joy and happiness. It’s been a blessing to me to be a part of helping so many people.”

The effort meant “a lot” to Priscilla Derebage of Mayfield, who was able to find her favorite children’s book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” for her infant son. 

Credit Stephanie Wolf / WFPL
Priscilla Derebage of Mayfield looks for gifts for her infant son. She said she’s grateful to be able to have a Christmas for her son despite losing their home in the storm.


Derebage said her home was severely damaged by the storm and is scheduled for demo next month. 

But she plans to rebuild.

“I want my son to grow up there… It’s a great town, great people,” Derebage said.

Like Derebage, Paula Laird also intends to rebuild in Mayfield. 

“I imagine I’ll be there,” Laird said.

The toy drive continues this week. Those unable to go to any of the locations can email to arrange an alternate delivery option.

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