NEF grants provide hope amid devastation

With the onset of spring and the likelihood of warmer temperatures, the chance of severe weather increases across our nation.

Five years ago this month, a severe spring storm spawned a multiple-vortex tornado that left a trail of devastation in Alabama from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. The April 27, 2011, storm killed dozens of people, injured more than 1,500 others and created $2.4 billion in damage.

Holley Harris, a Vietnam veteran and member of American Legion Post 1169 in Birmingham, was among those whose home sustained major damage.

Harris, who has lived in his home for 46 years, remembers the wind picking up, and his 20-foot trees bending and bowing. He and his housemate headed to the safe area, his den, and then when the power went out, they went into the basement. “It was time to stop talking and start praying,” he said.

After the storm rumbled through, it was quiet. The winds had uprooted his tall trees, scattering them throughout his yard and stacking them against his home. “Devastation, like I didn’t even see in Vietnam,” he recalled. “There was so much devastation. But we were blessed because we didn’t lose our lives.”

While the Legion has been actively involved in meeting the needs of veterans, their families and communities for almost a century, the National Emergency Fund (NEF) became a formal program in 1989 in response to Hurricane Hugo. Since that time, more than $8 million has been granted to Legion Family members and posts in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.

“The devastation brought on by a hurricane, tornado, wildfire or other severe disaster can be hard to comprehend,” said Dale Barnett, national commander of The American Legion. “In these tough times, The American Legion provides much-needed financial resources to those who have lost everything, or almost everything.

“By providing this emergency funding, NEF has prevented damaged posts from closing and enabled American Legion Family members to recover from tragedy.”

For Harris, it took nine months for his home to be rebuilt before he could permanently return. “The NEF money helped me with food, clothing and gas to go back and forth” between his home and temporary apartment, he said.

“It means the world to me,” Harris said. “I didn’t know The American Legion did that. I was humbled by the compassion that was shown to me. It just blew me away. It was so generous and I appreciate it every much.”

His story represents why Barnett chose NEF as his primary program during his year as commander, setting a goal to raise $1 million.

“We never know precisely when or where a natural disaster will hit next,” Barnett said. “But we do know that the devastation will be severe to those in the affected areas. That’s why we need to have the resources available to help those in need. Please consider a donation of any amount to the National Emergency Fund today. One hundred percent of your donation goes to helping a veteran family in need during a critical emergency.”

National Emergency Fund

When natural disasters like tornadoes, floods or wildfires strike, The American Legion’s National Emergency Fund swiftly delivers needed money to veterans in their communities.