Auburn resident Kaitlyn Willing runs clothing boutique for tornado victims out of bus

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By Morgan Bryce
Editor

During the last three months, thousands of articles of clothes and countless smiles and words of encouragement have been distributed to tornado survivors in Beauregard through the Tornado Relief Clothing Bus.
In the days after the March 3 tornadoes hit, Auburn resident Kaitlyn Willing felt spiritually compelled to “fire up” an unused boutique bus sitting in her back yard and use it to distribute clothing to women and children who had lost everything they owned.
“I knew Lee County could do better than donating old t-shirts or out of style clothing from the back of our closets. A standard was set. We would not accept just any clothing,” Willing said. “We would only accept the best, gently-loved items or brand new items with tags. I want these women and children to feel special because that it what they deserve.”
On the first day of operation, Willing took the bus to arguably the hardest hit portion of Lee County, along Lee Road 38 in Beauregard. Witnessing the devastation first-hand, she said she realized that she was brought there for a purpose.
“I began to realize this bus became much more than I ever intended it to be. With a background scenery of pure devastation right outside the windows, the interior of the bus transformed into something quite opposite,” Willing said. “Women were smiling, laughing even while trying on clothing…for a moment, they were able to escape the pure tragedy that surrounded them.”
Each weekend since, Willing has brought the bus back to Lee Road 38, building and strengthening relationships with each person who boards the bus and shops through her selection.
Willing and her husband Aaron’s generosity to the Beauregard community was recently reciprocated. Frequent trips back and forth between their home and Beauregard took its toll on the bus, causing it to eventually break down. However, through the generosity of several individuals in Beauregard, the broken part was replaced, a moment Willing said she will never forget.
“ …I posted on the Beauregard Strong Facebook page about it, sharing the sad news and inquiring if anyone knew of a cost effective tow company or diesel mechanic. The amount of support we recieved from the very community we were serving brought me to tears,” Willing remembered. “Within a couple of weeks, a few men from the community ordered the parts our bus needed and fixed it for us… at no cost. I just could not believe their generosity. They did not know us and we did not know them, yet the very people we were serving came to our rescue.”
The Willings are still accepting donations for the bus, preferrably new bras and new or “gently-loved” women’s shorts. Volunteers are still needed also, along with someone with a truck to help gather supplies at the MEND warehouse Tuesday through Thursday from between their operating hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Once they feel that their mission is complete, the Willings plan to transform the bus into a baby/maternity boutique for Kaitly’s employer “Baby Steps,” a nonprofit that “empowers women at Auburn University to have their education and their babies by providing housing, support and community.”
“Along with many others, I have been forever changed by the March 3rd tornadoes. Although I did not lose anything, what I have gained from this experience is immeasurable,” Kaitlyn added. “I have witnessed the Lee County community rally around one another in a season of such trial and devastation and bring comfort and hope to ones whom are hurting. This is what life is about. Its not about much we can individually achieve, rather loving one another as (Jesus) Christ has loved us and sacrificing when others are in need.”
For more information or updates, like and follow the bus’s Facebook page “Tornado Relief Clothing Bus.”

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