On the evening of December 10 and the early morning of December 11, 2021 a four state region was hit with one of the most severe tornado outbreaks in American history. The swath of tornados covered parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. One tornado stayed on the ground for an unimaginable 227 miles – 200 of those miles were in Kentucky. The tornado left death and destruction in its path, but it did not break the spirit of those who were fortunate to see the sun rise the next morning.
“Our hearts are broken but not our spirits.”
University of Kentucky Director of the Grain and Forage Center of Excellence Chad Lee
How Can I Help the People of Western Kentucky?
As day broke on the morning of December 11th it soon became clear this tornado was like no other and will likely go down as the longest continuous tornado in American history.
Almost immediately, people started asking, “What can I do to help?”
Watch the video below as Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman tells a tale of her Day on the Trail in Taylor County, Kentucky and everyday heroes. Coleman spoke with a local farm family that was in the path of the tornado. It’s a sad tale but the resilience, perseverance and willingness to help ones neighbors is heartwarming.
“It was in that moment that you realize that it’s our everyday heroes that are stepping up,” proclaimed Coleman. “They do God’s work every day. But man they are the Angel’s that show up when we need them. Everybody from our local officials to neighbors, they don’t need a title, they’re helping their neighbors.”
Here are four ways that you can contribute to help the people of Western Kentucky.
The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit Online and Live Auction of Experiences and Bourbon
The Kentucky Distillers’ Association – KDA, the Bourbon Crusaders charitable organization and Bourbon curator Fred Minnick have crafted an epic fundraising event to support recovery and rebuilding efforts from the tornados that ravaged Western Kentucky.
The Kentucky Bourbon Benefit will feature an online and live auction of exclusive private barrel selection experiences, rare and vintage spirits, and unique tasting and tourism offerings from Kentucky’s signature distilling industry and hospitality and charitable partners.
“I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of support in recent days,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “I appreciate our signature Bourbon industry quickly stepping up to raise much-needed money for Kentucky families that have lost so much in this tragedy.”
Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory said, “Kentuckians are hurting. They’ve lost their homes, loved ones and their livelihoods. It’s our obligation as a signature industry – and duty as fellow Kentuckians – to help each other in times of crisis.
“There is a real urgency here. These are our friends and neighbors, and they need help now.”
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The online auction will begin Thursday, Dec. 16, at 5 p.m. EST and run until Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 10 p.m. A live-streamed auction will be held on Dec. 21 starting at 7 p.m. at Westport Whiskey & Wine in Louisville and will feature elite and immersive items from Kentucky’s legendary distillers. Bourbon fans can go to the KyBourbonBenefit.com to view all the auction items and begin placing bids starting Thursday, Dec. 16.
All proceeds will go directly to the state’s official Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund to assist those impacted by the tornados and severe storms of Dec. 11.
“We’ve been the recipients of so much generous hospitality from the fine people of Kentucky,” said RJ Sargent, founder of The Bourbon Crusaders. “They’ve treated us like family. When we saw the chance to give back, our members jumped at the opportunity.”
DistilleryTrail is headquarted in Louisville, Kentucky. When I looked out my back window on the morning of December 11th I saw a piece of paper laying in the yard. I went out and discovered a check that apparently traveled some 170 miles from Manitou, Kentucky to Louisville, Kentucky. What’s even weirder is it’s a 36 year old check from 1985. I blurred the personal information out of respect for the persons privacy.
Minnick said, “Kentucky Bourbon is a community that spans throughout the Bluegrass State and from whiskey bars in Sidney to the collectors in Manitoba. Bourbon lovers everywhere want to help rebuild Western Kentucky with our hands, hearts, and wallets.
“Private collectors, Kentucky distillers, out-of-state brands and celebrities donated rare auction items that will surely break records. The Bourbon community believes in the Commonwealth’s bond of Bourbon and knows it can bring us together to rebuild.”
Offerings include more than 20 private barrel experiences, where Bourbon enthusiasts can personally taste and select their own one-of-a-kind barrel under the tutelage of the brand’s Master Distiller. Each barrel usually yields 150-200 bottles depending on age and proof.
Whiskey aficionados with the Bourbon Crusaders have raided their collections and donated dozens of limited edition and single barrel expressions of Bourbon, rye and Scotch whiskies. Distillers also have donated rare bottles that disappeared from retailer’s shelves long ago.
Minnick, a best-selling author and expert on all things Bourbon, utilized his renowned distilling and celebrity connections to reap a treasure trove of bottles, private experiences and memorabilia to fulfill any whiskey lover’s dream.
On the hospitality side, companies along the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® have donated overnight stays at charming bed and breakfast stops, transportation and tourism packages, a six-foot tall Christmas tree made out of barrel staves and much more.
In addition to the auction, there will be a dedicated “buy it now” section where people can purchase bottles and other items without breaking the bank. Due to COVID and space restrictions, the live auction is not open to the public. Items will be available for viewing online and streaming.
Organizers have been humbled and overwhelmed by the generosity of distillers and partners from outside Kentucky that offered assistance and items for the auction. Kentucky distillers also are sending pallets of hand sanitizer to Western Kentucky that remain from COVID relief efforts.
“The outpouring has been enormous,” Sargent said. “We immediately began receiving texts and calls throughout Kentucky and from coast to coast from our members, friends and partners in the national Bourbon community who knew that we could help them help Kentuckians.”
Gregory said he began making calls to distillers early Saturday morning when daylight gave way to the devastation of the tornados. Not one distiller turned down his request to donate barrels or bottles to the cause.
“I really didn’t have to ask,” he said. “They knew why I was calling, and they were ready to help in any way. It could have been any of their communities or families or colleagues. That’s Bourbon. That’s the Kentucky spirit shining through. We’re all about taking care of each other.
“After all, Bourbon is America’s spirit and Kentucky is its birthplace. When Kentucky hurts, we hurt, and that’s why we’re doing this. Thank you to everyone who is helping in the recovery and rebuilding efforts, and please continue praying for our beloved Commonwealth and its people.”
How to Donate Directly Now to Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund
People can also go directly to the state of Kentucky’s website and donate directly to Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund at TeamWKYReliefFund.ky.gov. The state will take no administrative fee at all.
Governor Beshear has established the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund to assist those impacted by the tornados and the severe weather system. All donations to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund are tax-deductible and donors will receive a receipt for tax purposes after donating.
If you would like to mail in a donation, please make your check to Kentucky State Treasurer. In the memo line please note the donation is for the “Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund.” Send check to Public Protection Cabinet, 500 Mero Street, 218 NC, Frankfort, KY 40601.
Western Kentucky Relief Fund Toy Drive
Kentucky’s First Lady has also started a toy drive for the children affected by the storms in Western Kentucky.
“For many of us, the holidays are a time for being at home surrounded by family and friends,” said First Lady Britainy Beshear. “But this year, many in Western Kentucky have suffered a tragedy. They’ve lost everything, including their homes and maybe even someone they love. With your help, we can make this season a little easier for those who are hurting by donating a toy, book or gift card to bring them some hope and joy during the holidays.”
To learn more about how to participate in the Western Kentucky Tory Drive please visit Governor.ky.gov/ToyDrive
Kentucky’s Agriculture Community Hit Hard by Storm Damage
Let’s face it, bourbon whiskey is an agricultural product. In order to legally be called bourbon a whiskey must contain at least 51% corn. The additional 49% of grains may include more corn, rye, wheat, barley or a few other grains. A large portion of those grains are planted, grown and harvested in the state of Kentucky and nearby states. Bourbon and ag are deeply connected.
In the midst of utter destruction parts of the University of Kentucky’s Grain and Forage Center of Excellence received extensive damage.
The UK Research and Education Center in Princeton took a direct hit from the powerful tornado that carved a path of destruction across the western half of Kentucky. UKREC employees, led by director Carrie Knott, worked through the weekend, securing and caring for animals, assessing damage and offering support.
“Our hometown heroes of hope—our faculty, staff and Extension agents in our Western Kentucky communities have rallied to assist others even as we were dealing with damages to critical UK facilities in Western Kentucky,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “As the University for Kentucky, we understand how important faculty and staff at the UK Research and Education Center and Cooperative Extension Service are to relaying educational information to their communities. We are committed to rebuilding, helping the area recover and emerging stronger than before.”
While the physical structure that housed the UKREC is gone, the center has been, and always will be, vital to Kentucky agriculture. As a testament to the importance of the center to the state’s agriculture industry, two temporary office buildings and two temporary storage buildings will be placed on-site Dec. 14 for UKREC personnel.
“The outpouring of community support has been very humbling to us,” Knott said. “We are not closing our doors, but we will look a little different and be a little more fragmented at least for the near future.”
Due to the number of debris, officials ask that the public stay away from the center as the area is unsafe and structurally unsound.
“The Kentucky agricultural community is a strong community. It is a kind community, and it is a generous community,” said Chad Lee, director of the Grain and Forage Center of Excellence. “We are going to rely heavily on them to help us get through this as we work to build anew. Our hearts are broken but not our spirits.”
Numerous counties are dealing with the aftermath of the destructive tornadoes. The UK Cooperative Extension Service is diligently working with area organizations to meet the needs of tornado victims.
Extension has partnered with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to offer support for affected farmers. Those who wish to donate farm supplies should contact their local extension office. Extension agents will deliver products to the KDA for distribution to farm organizations working to meet the needs of impacted farmers.
Kentucky 4-H has a 4-H’ers Helping 4-H’ers Relief Fund that is collecting donations to help affected 4-H members, families and staff. If you would like to donate via 4-H please visit Kentucky4Hfoundation.org/Relief-Fund.
Donate a Musical Instrument
WoodSongs Tornado Relief Effort launched to help replace musical instruments. Many musicians in the affected region have lost everything, including their guitars, banjos, mandolins and fiddles. Many schools lost all of their band instruments. WoodSongs (501-c-3) is working to send replacement instruments free. Let’s not underestimate the comfort music and art can bring to families and neighbors in a time of great loss.