Tragedy touched so many people’s lives in Alabama on Wednesday, April 27, when a series of tornadoes ripped through the state. In their wake, the storms left devastation on an unprecedented scale. More than 200 people are confirmed dead in Alabama alone, and many thousands more lost their homes and all their possessions. The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Beasley Allen go out to the families suffering at this time.
Hoping to literally put into action the professional creed of the legal profession, lawyers in Alabama plan to help “render service,” in this time of great need. This includes participating in immediate, hands-on disaster relief efforts as well as by providing legal services in the future.
Beasley Allen is directly partnering with state and national agencies to fund relief efforts. The firm contributed substantial amounts through the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation to the Red Cross disaster relief fund. The firm also partnered with the Alabama Law Foundation to donate to both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to help with their assistance to storm victims.
Beasley Allen Shareholder Dana Taunton, whose brother and his family live in Tuscaloosa, helped to coordinate a drive to gather school supplies for children in the affected areas. She and other volunteers delivered supplies including paper, crayons, pencils and pens, copier paper, erasers, and school supply boxes and bottled water to distribute in the schools. The Tuscaloosa School system started back on Monday, May 2. The firm contributed to this effort.
“They are trying to help get kids out of shelters as much as possible and return them to some kind of sense of routine and normalcy,” Dana explains. “School is a chance for them to get away from some of the harsh realities and to be with friends for a while.”
The Alabama Association for Justice will provide free help to storm victims, to help them file insurance claims. This is an often time-consuming and confusing process, which seems especially daunting in the face of such tremendous loss.
AAJ President Courtney French said, “The people who were affected by the storms are in our hearts and prayers. We want to do everything we can to help those affected by the storms. We pride ourselves on serving individuals and families in their time of need. This is one way where we can help. The insurance process can be an arduous one and we can help make the process easier.”
People requesting help should go to www.alabamajustice.org and fill out the online form. Or they may call the association at (334) 262-4974. The person requesting help will then be matched with a local attorney who can assist with filing the claims and answer questions those affected may have.
The Alabama State Bar also is working to provide legal assistance for storm victims, as well as to help lawyers whose offices were damaged or destroyed in the storms to get back on their feet. Plans include putting into place pro bono clinics where members of the Volunteer Lawyer Program can provide free legal advice and assistance, and creating an online “bulletin board” at its website, www.alabar.org, to connect lawyers whose offices have been damaged or destroyed with those who can offer help and resources.
Additionally, the Bar’s Young Lawyers Section (YLS) is working with FEMA representatives at the Disaster Recovery Centers. Beasley Allen’s Navan Ward is coordinating these efforts in Montgomery. Volunteers from the YLS will take phone calls from FEMA’s 800-number and assist storm victims in completing and filing a FEMA Disaster Legal Services Intake Form, to get them on the road to recovery.
A Disaster Legal Helpline 1-800-354-6154 has been activated to aid the residents of the affected counties which have been declared a disaster area by federal authorities. Attorney volunteers, who can include but are not restricted to young lawyers, screen incoming calls and accept pro bono referrals from the helpline. The volunteer attorneys are not permitted to accept legal business from callers. This is strictly a public service.
“I am proud to be able to help those that have lost so much due to the recent tornadoes,” Navan says. “In times of devastation like this, helping someone find answers to help them rebuild their lives is the least that we can do.”
Individuals affected by a disaster appreciate the bar’s assistance in clarifying a variety of confusing legal questions, which include help with insurance claims, counseling on landlord-tenant and other housing problems (a significant issue in a college town like Tuscaloosa), reviewing home repair contracts, resolving consumer protection matters, dealing with mortgage foreclosure problems, replacing or writing wills, and drafting powers of attorney.
The Alabama State Bar encourages its members to contact the Bar with information about services you are able to provide, whether with legal assistance, physical space or material goods. Call the ASB toll-free at 800-354-6154.
In addition to providing professional services, lawyers and others throughout the state want to know how they can help with other tasks, including assisting with clean-up and recovery efforts, and helping to supply essentials like clothing, food and shelter. There are a number of groups working toward these efforts.
The Alabama Lawyers Association pledged half of all proceeds from its inaugural golf tournament, held May 5, to help storm victims.
“The Alabama Lawyers Association wants to do its part in helping our fellow citizens who were harmed by the deadly tornadoes last week,” said Beasley Allen shareholder Larry Golston, who is serving as President of ALA. “One of our first steps in this regard will be to take proceeds from this golf tournament and sow them into the lives of those adversely affected by the storm to assist them as they work to recover and rebuild.”
If you would like to make a donation through ALA to assist storm victims, contact Wyndall Ivey, Golf Tournament Chair, at (205) 226-0342 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or Larry Golston, ALA President, at email@example.com.
For other opportunities to help storm victims, contact one of the following organizations:
- Donate to the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund to help tornado victims in Alabama through the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Donate onlne at www.servealabama.gov. You can also register to provide volunteer services at this website, or for additional volunteer information call 2-1-1 (in Alabama) or toll-free 888-421-1266.
- The United Way also is helping to coordinate volunteers, donations and other service campaigns. Visit the United Way of Western Alabama (Tuscaloosa) at www.uwwa.org to learn how you can provide services, monetary and non-monetary donations in that area. To assist in the Birmingham area, visit the United Way of Central Alabama at www.uwca.org.
- The United Way also is coordinating a mobile campaign, where you can make a monetary donation to the relief effort by text message. To donate $10 to the United Way of Russell and Washington Counties, text SUPPORT to 27722; to donate $10 to the United Way of Central Alabama, text TORNADO to 50555. These funds will be distributed to assist storm victims.
- The American Red Cross also is coordinating relief efforts. You can donate monetarily a number of ways. To donate by text message, text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10. You also can donate online to the Red Cross disaster relief fund at www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.
In addition to these statewide and national relief and assistance campaigns, there are many local efforts to help storm victims. Keep an eye out in your community for opportunities to assist. Many local churches and service groups will be calling on you in the coming days.