In 2016, City leaders posed a question to local nonprofit Network of Community Ministries: If the City ever faces a disaster, could Network help with recovery efforts after the City’s initial emergency response? The answer was a resounding yes, and with a Disaster Relief Partnership formalized in 2017, Network staff were FEMA certified and ready for the Oct. 20, 2019 tornado. Amidst a power outage (Network offices are located near what was the EF-3 tornado’s path), staff members were hard at work the next morning strategizing with the City, working to save Network’s Food Pantry perishables and preparing to send trucks and volunteers into neighborhoods armed with bottles of water and Network fliers. Over the next four months, more than 1,000 people affected by the tornado received help from Network, 610 adults and 395 children, comprising 341 families.

“Because the residents of this city and the area that we serve are so generous, I didn’t have to say no to anyone,” said Network CEO Cindy Shafer in a presentation last month to the City Council.

Churches and other community organizations brought large checks within an hour of receiving a call from Shafer; residents donated money as well as clothing, food and furniture. More than 360 new volunteers joined Network’s 250 regular weekly volunteers, with some staying on after the emergency needs subsided.

Assistance ranged from meals and groceries for people who were without power to broader services for those whose homes were uninhabitable, including clothing (“Many people came to us in their pajamas, and that’s all they had,” said Shafer); hotel rooms (for 57 families—the City initially provided the rooms for about a week and then Network took on the responsibility); lunch and dinner for two weeks (breakfast was provided by the hotels); pharmacy gift cards (to help with replacing lost medications); and counseling (provided by The Counseling Place).

“People were in shock,” said Shafer. “We tried to look at every possible thing that they might need during the crisis so they wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Network coordinated with RISD to secure transportation for schoolchildren to and from the hotels, and Network’s “Toyland” also assisted families, providing toys, games and books to help keep hotel-bound children happy.

“We had kids crying because they were happy that they could have something,” recalled Shafer.

Shafer said the ultimate goal of the disaster assistance has been to “transition people into permanency.” Close to 100 tornado-affected families have received help from Network in securing permanent housing, 24 families have received moving assistance and 61 families received household items. Fifty families (as of late February) continue to receive ongoing support with food, counseling, job resources or assistance finding housing.

For more information about Network of Community Ministries, visit