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West Michigan nurse reflects on tornado relief work in KY: 'It's about loving and caring and sharing'

"We're family and we're neighbors. We just happened to be a little bit further down the road," Louise O'Donnell said of her volunteering experience.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — After swapping the holidays with family for a debris field and hundreds of shattered lives at the center of tornado-battered Kentucky, American Red Cross Nurse Louise O’Donnell returned to her home in Grand Rapids last week.

13 ON YOUR SIDE profiled O’Donnell’s relief work as part of the larger, multi-agency effort underway last month in the states hardest hit during an early December tornado outbreak that left untold devastation in its wake.

RELATED: 'Everybody Lost Somebody:' West MI Nurse on Ground in Tornado-Stricken Kentucky

Prior to her return from Mayfield, O’Donnell said she held a belated holiday celebration with family in Ohio.

“I flew back to my mom's home and we celebrated there,” she said via Zoom Thursday, though admitted she experienced a familiar set of misgivings as the trip home approached. “I feel… guilty often when I come back from trips like this because the work is never really done.”

Data provided by the American Red Cross showed relief workers had provided, in total:

  • 87,400 meals and snacks
  • 52,100 relief items
  • 11,100 individual care contacts

The organization also reported more than 800 displaced individuals still utilizing emergency shelters, state park lodges and hotel accommodations as of this week.

Though O’Donnell’s holiday celebrations came later than usual, she said they furnished valuable perspective.

“It’s not the stuff. It’s not the presents or the fancy wrappings… it’s about loving and caring and sharing,” she related. “We’re friends and we're family and we're neighbors. We just happened to be a little bit further down the road.”

For additional resources and volunteer opportunities, visit the Volunteer Match website here and the Disaster Center website here.

Watch the full interview here:

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