The storms cut a cruel path across Alabama, gashing a swath of the state from one end to the other. Even eight months later, the toll is staggering — 240 dead, 2,200 injured, 14,000 homes damaged and a cost to rebuild that could go as high as $4 billion. From west Alabama near the border with Mississippi to the Georgia state line to the east, most Alabamians have a story to tell about that awful day. While many speak of loss and pain, an equal number tell of great deeds, grand generosity and neighbors helping neighbors.
In northeast Alabama, the First Baptist Church of Williams stands out among many who brought aid and comfort to those stung by the storms. The church turned its gym into a warehouse of sorts. It became a place community residents struggling to regain their footing could turn for their needs — toiletries, clothes, blankets, hot meals, a warm and welcoming shoulder to offer support. For a rural church in Northeast Alabama, it could be said First Baptist Church of Williams fights above its weight class.
For these reasons, the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Williams is The Star’s Alabamians of the Year. In reality, the church’s membership is the Alabamians of the Year for our corner of the state. The Williams community church is but our Northeast Alabama symbol of work done across the state.
Some in the Williams congregation have hinted their generous and unceasing outreach is nothing special, merely the outworking of the Gospels’ commands to love your neighbors. In a way they are correct. The work of the church located near Jacksonville is but one shining example of hundreds of churches and aid agencies doing heroic service following the storms.
The Star’s definition for AOY is, “An Alabamian (or Alabamians) who made a significant mark on events over the past year; someone who lived up to the state creed’s dictate ‘to foster her advancement within the statehood of the world.’
No event in 2011 put the generous hearts and giving spirits of Alabamians in the spotlight more than the recovery effort from April 27’s storms. The world was shocked by the power of the deadly weather and what it did to Alabama. We’d like to think the post-storm outreach by First Baptist Church of Williams and hundreds of others like it showed another face of Alabama, one that is friendly, generous and selfless in helping those in need.