There were more than 60 car accidents in this sparsely populated county on Tuesday, as snow fell and ice formed on steep hills and shade-covered roads. By 6 p.m., county officials had declared a curfew to keep drivers off the roads.
Nightfall found a dozen people stranded, Red Cross officials say, at Heflin Baptist Church. The church opened as a cold-weather shelter as the weather worsened Tuesday, but there was no food on the premises. Ice had made the roads impassable for who knew how long, and no grocery store was open.
Red Cross volunteers put in a few calls to Cleburne County officials, who in turn found Steven Lines, chief operating officer of Heflin's WM Grocery. Lines said he'd like to open the store, but the storm had him stuck in Birmingham.
So the Heflin Fire Department sent a truck to pick up assistant manager Luke Bowman, the closest employee with a key, who lives about a mile from the store.
Bowman opened the store and firefighters filled grocery carts with anything they thought the stranded people might need — bananas, chips, drinks, hot cocoa. And, of course, bread.
Red Cross volunteers asked how much they owed the store. WM Grocery's owners and managers had already set their price.
"I told them, just take what you need." Bowman said. “We'll consider it a donation."
They got what they needed — so much food that there was no need for another stop at the local Piggly Wiggly, which had also offered to donate, said Joe Jankoski, community chapter executive for the Calhoun/Cleburne Red Cross.
"It shows how big and compassionate the hearts of Alabamians are," he said.