It wasn’t long ago Jeremy LaDuke didn’t know how to work a chainsaw, had no connection to Ringgold, Ga., and the Vienna Coffee House was just a place for him to get java.
Then earlier this spring, tornadoes tore a path of destruction across the Southeast United States that left in its wake hundreds dead and millions of dollars in damage.
LaDuke is lead pastor at Remedy Church, a non-denominational Christian church at 326 Gill St., in Alcoa. LaDuke first heard about the devastation in Ringgold shortly after tornadoes struck there in late April.
“I first heard about Ringgold being in need when I saw something on Twitter from Rev. Shane Cravin with the Origin Church,” LaDuke said. “We essentially said we just wanted to help. It is a couple hours away. The Friday after it happened on Wednesday, some members of our church and I hopped in our van, rounded up bottled water, and people donated food and diapers, and we drove down and found our way through all the traffic jams and got to the donation center.”
LaDuke said when they first got to Ringgold, they saw churches housing people, so they stopped and dropped off supplies. Then they spent the rest of the day helping residents who needed trees and limbs cut off their cars and houses.
The pastor and several church members returned two weeks later. “The biggest need they had at that point was just cutting up trees on houses in neighborhoods and on cars,” he said.
On May 14, The Remedy Church held a benefit concert at Vienna Coffee House to benefit folks in Ringgold. “We had two concerts. We didn’t have a great response and didn’t have lot of time to market it. We had close to $100 in donations and a lot of people brought items to donate that we took to Ringgold for the relief effort,” LaDuke said. “We had another concert at our location on Gill Street and raised close to $300.”
The last trip the congregation made was two weeks ago. “It has been interesting. A month and a half ago, I had never used a chainsaw and I’ve gotten a crash course,” he said. “Luckily there have been no injuries.”
Jamie Matzko, manager of Vienna Coffee House at 321 High Street in Maryville, said when all the storms happened earlier this spring, it was difficult to know how to help. She praised the folks at Remedy Church for making a connection with a congregation in Ringgold and raising money and supplies to help them.
“It was basically organized through the Remedy Church,” she said of the May 14 event. “It turned out to be a pretty good crowd for that particular group. They had three different performers. We tried to promote it for them, and they did the organizing.”
Matzko said the restaurant is becoming a community gathering place for all ages. “What we want to create at the Coffee House is a place people can use for different community events. We want to become that third place if people are not at work or at home, they’re at Vienna Coffee House,” she said. “It’s a great public meeting spot. We just really want people to feel welcome.”