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A church lies in ruins after the Quad-State Tornado swept through Mayfield, Kentucky earlier this month. --Photo courtesy of Eddie Guillen

A church lies in ruins after the Quad-State Tornado swept through Mayfield, Kentucky earlier this month. --Photo courtesy of Eddie Guillen

Heartbreak turns to hope

Southwest Siders help Kentucky tornado victims

By Kelly White

and Tim Hadac

With Christmas approaching, hundreds of Southwest Siders have opened their hearts and their pantries to help men, women and children caught up in catastrophic aftermath of the Quad-State Tornado, which ripped a path of destruction said to be about 200 miles long across Kentucky and neighboring states.

Spearheading an aid drive were Yesenia Huizar and her sister, Cassandra Huizar—residents of Mayfield, Kentucky (a city of about 10,000 residents) who moved to the Southwest Side two months ago.

The sisters—along with a third sister, Celene–were fortunate in that their mother, father and 96-year-old grandmother, who still live in Mayfield, not only survived the tornado, but their home is still standing undamaged. Sadly, however, others were not as fortunate.

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A church lies in ruins after the Quad-State Tornado swept through Mayfield, Kentucky earlier this month. –Photo courtesy of Eddie Guillen

“We personally know people that have lost their families – lost their children,” Cassandra Huizar said.

So the sisters were painfully aware of the large-scale destruction of the Friday, Dec. 11 twister—which, according to meteorologists, may have been wreaking havoc on the ground as long as four hours (the average tornado spends 10-20 minutes on the ground before it dissipates). The tornado reportedly sucked up debris from its path and hurled it as high as 30,000 feet in the air.

The Huizars planned to do what they could to help the thousands of Mayfield residents who survived the calamity but were left in dire need of food, water, shelter and other necessities of life.

So they thought they’d gather what they could, load up a couple of SUVs and make the 400-mile drive south.

But that’s where their cousin, Noelia Cabral, stepped in. Less than 48 hours after the calamity, she reached out to her Facebook friends for donations and offered to use the business she and her brother, Sam, own: EC Dry Cleaners near 53rd and Pulaski, as a collection point.

That, in turn, is where Cabral’s friend, West Lawn neighborhood advocate Eddie Guillen, stepped in and stepped up.

Ten months ago, Guillen was a key player in organizing a Chicago-to-Texas relief effort to help people affected by catastrophic storms there. That experience, he told the Greater Southwest News-Herald, helped him this month.

“I thought about, what if this were my family? I knew I had to do something to help…I knew right away that I could help and to be a part of the relief efforts in any way possible,” Guillen said. “Together, we could make this a big operation instead of just having a few SUVs bringing stuff over.”

Guillen organized a Save Mayfield drive that saw hundreds of Southwest Siders and others donate thousands of items over a five-day period: food, water, clothing, kitchen items like can openers and utensils, personal hygiene items, portable generators and more.

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Martin Castillo from Castillo Brothers Enterprise was one of a handful of local business owners who donated to the relief effort. –Supplied photo

What was originally envisioned as two SUVS heading down to Kentucky became a convoy of three extended semi-tractor trailers and about a half-dozen cars and SUVs laden with relief supplies that left Chicago in the pre-dawn darkness last Saturday. Guillen and his wife, Jessica, even filled their vehicle and drove it in the procession.

“It’s about trying to help,” Cassandra Huizar said. “It’s not about us. It’s about the amazing, incredible survivors that have gone through so much. It’s about wanting to give back, and give anything we can, to help these strong men, women and children.”

The Huizars and Cabrals were the center of the Save Mayfield drive, but they credited Guillen for super-sizing the effort to something they did not think was possible.

Guillen, in turn, declined to take a bow. Instead, he deflected the accolades to others, including truck drivers Hector Martinez, Dario Serna, Manuel Corral and Romualdo; local business owners including Jennifer Tapia from First Rate Realty, Mr. D’s Waterproofing & Construction, Right Away Pallets, Contractors Access/Colonial Brick Company, Orange Line Plumbing and Cermak Produce; non-profits including Envision Community Services, Pilgrim Baptist Church, Aspira, Bag Lady Outreach and The Hope Chest; and the more than 400 individuals who donated.

“Teamwork tells the tale,” Guillen said. “This shows what a special part of Chicago we live in, what a sense of community we have…and it can serve as a blueprint for future times of need, here and elsewhere.”

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