Mississippi restauranteur heeds call for help, fixes hundreds of meals for tornado victims, first responders

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Vicksburg resident Charles Toney got a call Friday night.

His help was needed.

An EF-4 tornado had ripped through Rolling Fork, and it had practically obliterated the Delta town.

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Toney, who owns Toney’s Grill & Seafood Market, is no stranger to helping others. When Hurricane Ida ravaged parts of South Louisiana, he and his wife Christin headed down with supplies for those in need.

Shortly after the tornado had torn through Rolling Fork, Toney said he got a call to help again.

“They needed some supplies so I ran to the store and loaded up all the bottled water I could get,” he said.

Toney also bought Vienna sausages, “And all the oranges and apples Super Junior had on the shelves, and most of the potato chip bags, and then we went up (to Rolling Fork).”

Upon arriving, Toney said, he was not sure where he was because of all the destruction.

“I’ve been in Rolling Fork a million times and been through the whole town, and when I got there Friday, I didn’t have any landmarks to go by. I didn’t know if I needed to turn on this road or that road. It was horrible. It was just horrible,” he said.

Once Toney got his bearings, he said he delivered most of the supplies to the hospital and was told some would also go to the nursing home.

Toney was in Rolling Fork until 1 a.m.

He returned with his son and some of his friends the next day, to cook hamburgers and hotdogs for the first responders.

Between 500 to 600 meals were prepared, Toney said, with some also being distributed to residents in the community.

“That was all we could put together (hamburgers and hotdogs) at the last minute. We weren’t ready to do a full-blown meal so we just got what we could,” he said.

Toney estimated 80 to 90 percent of the town was destroyed by the tornado.

“You look at people’s houses and they aren’t there — they are like, gone. And people are in shock,” he said.

Toney recalled seeing a large home in the community that had not been destroyed, but rather displaced — picked up by the winds and set back down, largely intact.

“It was a big house and it had literally been picked up off the slab and turned at a 45-degree angle and set back down,” he said.

Toney also said a friend texted him Sunday night and shared what he had witnessed Friday after the storm had passed.

“He said, ‘Charles, we were digging through the rubble and finding deceased people and had to load them in front-end loaders and carry them to the road.’”

Toney said his friend, who he described as “tough as nails,” told him he had cried and thrown up after witnessing such a horrific sight.

“It will probably take him a long time to recover from this,” Toney said.

Seeing the destruction and listening to those who are experiencing the devastation just “hurts your heart,” Toney said, but it has also made him feel thankful.

“I feel blessed,” he said. “We were fortunate. We got to leave and go back home and take a hot shower and get in bed, and they don’t.”