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Thanksgiving Spirit Thrives in Wake of Devastating Tornadoes

"The thought of families not being able to be together and sit at their table for a family dinner or put up their Christmas tree together," Holly Tisdale-Zavodny said. "Just not having a place to call your own anymore is what moved me to reach out to the community."

Volunteer Organizer Tisdale-Zavodny has been managing outreach and donation efforts from Cass County, Ill., to assist victims in the nearby town, Washington. She was inspired to help her Washington neighbors in light of the impending holiday.

Through the use of her Facebook page, Tisdale-Zavodny has been able to reunite family members and allocate donations based on victim's unique and varying needs.

On Nov. 17, communities in Washington, Ill., were unexpectedly victims of a devastating tornado. One of the most destructive tornadoes that day, the preliminary-rated EF-4 tornado caused extensive damages in the rural community. The severe storms spanned Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky and demolished homes, caused widespread power outages and resulted in at least eight fatalities.

The situation continues to be dire in Washington, Ill., with homes destroyed and widespread power outages affecting communication and response.

"People just can't get in and out and they need things," Tisdale-Zavodny said.

Even in the face of these profound damages, the communities and volunteer efforts are embodying the Thanksgiving spirit. Neighboring communities in Illinois have pioneered donation and aid efforts.

"Everyone is just really gracious. We live in rural community; everyone doesn't have a lot of money. But if someone can't give, they talk to someone who can. It's really uplifting and it's great to see that everyone genuinely cares about everyone."

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Volunteers have also been inspired to help due to the generosity witnessed before from neighboring counties and realizing how this disaster could have happened in their hometown.

"We know how close it was to our home here and how easily, in seconds, all our lives could have been turned upside down, too."

Beth VanZant, who lost her home in the devastating Moore, Okla., tornado outbreak on May 20, 2013, said losing her home to tornadoes was, "a pretty devastating thing to deal with. To see the home you'd taken so much care to cultivate just thrashed and partially missing is seriously the stuff of the nightmares you've never had. "

For the upcoming holiday, survivor VanZant remains thankful for the safety of her family and her beloved pets, praising their instincts for finding safe shelter during the storm.

"This is our wake up call to spend time with the people who mean the most. Who cares about the food or the shopping? Those are nice things, but a tornado can take those things away in the blink of an eye - and as cliché as it may be - memories are forever," VanZant said.

If you would like to help the victims of the tornadoes, donate to the Red Cross disaster relief fund.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Erin Cassidy at cassidye@accuweather.com. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.