Pate said she helped her husband, Jeremy, cut trees for several hours before he asked her to find something less dangerous to do. He suggested that she could round up some food.
Pate quickly discovered there was no place for hungry residents and rescue crews to go. Local businesses were destroyed and relief organizations had not made it into the city yet.
“There wasn’t a place to get anything to eat or drink. People were just walking around town in shock. Everything was gone,” Pate said.
Pate retrieved 60 hot dogs from her house and enlisted the help of Eddie “June Bug” Belser.
Belser lost his home on Commerce Street in the storms, but he still had a grill and was willing to cook.
Pate ran a griddle off of a generator and made grilled cheese sandwiches.
“We were the only breakfast in town,” she said.
For two days, Pate and Belser were on the side of the road serving food that community members donated to them.
Then a representative of the Salvation Army asked Pate to find a building where she could continue to serve residents in the southern part of town.
Pate chose nearby Free Will Baptist Church, although she is not a member there. She expected to go through a lot of red tape. Instead, the pastor handed her the keys.
“He said, ‘That’s God’s church. It’s not ours. You do whatever it is that He is leading you to do,” Pate said.
When word got out that the church had become a disaster relief center, visitors started pouring in.
Pate, a former teacher and current attorney who had never received training in leading such an effort, somehow instinctively knew what to do.
She chose to focus on coordination duties and delegated other responsibilities to her growing number of volunteers.
She and a friend divided a map of the city into sections and wrote down each street so that all could be served.
Volunteers went out daily assessing needs and distributing care bags, meals, supplies and information to residents who could not make it to the center.
Pate said she never had to worry about whether she would have what she needed to continue helping those affected by the tornadoes.
She remembers standing in the kitchen saying, “We’re out of eggs.” Before she could get the words out of her mouth, someone walked in and announced that a truck was outside loaded down with supplies, including eggs.
“Manna just flowed down from heaven,” Pate said.
Pate doesn’t know exactly how many thousands have been fed out of Free Will Baptist Church since April 27, but she is certain that none who came left hungry.
She and the rest of the volunteers were determined to serve food that nourished the body and the soul.
On Mother’s Day morning, Pate arrived at the church at 6 a.m. to make eight pans of chicken and dressing.
Another day, a volunteer from Louisiana made jambalaya for 1,000 people.
“I didn’t want to just pass out hamburgers and hot dogs. I wanted to serve comfort food that would soothe the people of this town,” Pate said.
Nearly four weeks after the tornadoes, the church is still open as a relief center and lives are still being changed.
Pate said seven people, including volunteers, have recently given their life to Christ and will soon be baptized in a revival service on the front lawn.
Pate gives God the credit for turning tragedy into triumph at Free Will Baptist Church.
“God has supplied our needs in an awesome and unbelievable way. It has been humbling to be a part of it,” she said.
The Free Will Baptist Disaster Relief fund has been established through the church to handle donations. The address is P.O. Box 328 Cordova, AL, 35550.
A seven-member board, which includes three deacons and four community members, will be reviewing applicants based on need.