When a series of tornadoes caused widespread devastation across multiple states in December 2021, the images and videos were hard to watch. But even harder to imagine is the human toll and the reality so many in the storm’s path now face. In the town of Mayfield, Kentucky, home to about 10,000 people, it’s estimated as many as 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
Tom Graham, Senior IT Developer for Marathon Petroleum, first saw the devastation from photos and videos shared on local and national news reports. Graham learned Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization he actively supports, was mobilizing a relief effort in Mayfield and needed volunteers. He knew he needed to do something.
“I’m not sure I had a choice,” Graham said. “All I could think of was just how close it was to Christmas, and that people there were hurting. When my daughter asked me how we could help, I told her we could give our money, or we could go down there and lend a hand.”
Graham and his daughter made the 500-mile trip from their home in Lima, Ohio, to Mayfield, where they spent five days clearing debris and providing support and comfort to the victims, many who had lost loved ones, friends and neighbors.
“When we first drove into town it was raining. We came in from the west, and it looked as if very little had happened,” Graham said. “As we approached the center of the city, the damage was all around us. It looked like a scene from a war or movie. It was difficult to process the sight that was in front of me. Nothing can prepare you for what we saw in person.”
Together the father-daughter team volunteered a combined 60 hours during the trip. “I don’t have the exact words to describe it all, but helping other people is a blessing to both the person helping and the person receiving help,” Graham explained. “I think the most moving thing to me is seeing strangers working together side by side to help other strangers.”
“I think the most moving thing to me is seeing strangers working together side by side to help other strangers.”
Graham said he could share countless stories of hope, kindness and generosity, but one story really stood out to him during one of their last days in town.
“We saw a mother and her young daughter standing along the sidewalk in front of their destroyed home grilling hot dogs for anyone needing a bite to eat,” Graham said. “That really hit us.”
Not far from there, the group of volunteers Graham was working with saw a shredded American flag in a tree.
“No way we were going to leave it there in that condition,” he said.
The group worked together to retrieve the tattered flag, folded it, and collected any pieces they could find and brought it to a local VFW.
Graham and his daughter met so many homeowners and volunteers from all over the country. Graham said those connections and the continued need for volunteers, even months later, is why he is already planning a return trip.
“Our work in Mayfield is unfinished. It was hard to leave even knowing others were stepping in to take our place. We left a piece of ourselves there.”
He doesn’t have an exact date set for his return, but he’s hoping it will be as early as this spring or summer – and he invites others to join him.
Graham’s story is just one example of how employees at Marathon Petroleum are passionate about giving time, treasure and talents to address the issues facing our world. In addition to volunteering, Graham made a monetary donation to Samaritan’s Purse to aid the ongoing relief efforts—a donation Marathon Petroleum matched through the company’s Employee Giving Program.