When nature's fury is unleashed, children naturally learn how to help friends nearby or strangers far away. Think small to make big strides toward teaching empathy:
Jack Dalton, age 5, of Huntersville, N.C., sniffed soaps and deodorant at a local drugstore until he found just what he wanted to take to his preschool teacher, Whitney Storey.
Jack's church-based preschool was building "Mrs. Storey's Mountain" of treats and supplies for her to take to her tornado-ravaged hometown of Pulaski, Va., before Easter.
Jack's friend Emory Wilmesher of Davidson, N.C., came to preschool loaded up with several bags of treats that she and her mother had bought to share with the children of Pulaski.
Emory, Jack and the rest of their classmates helped turn their art-room tables into an assembly line: filling Easter bags and boxes with candy, stickers, bracelets and bouncy balls, and stuffing plastic eggs with tiny toys and wrapped candy.
The children, who had already received their Easter bounty from their own party, said not a peep about taking any of the candy for themselves. They simply focused on others whose toys had been "torn up" by a tornado. It proved easier to give than to receive when their own baskets were overflowing, and they felt safe at preschool and home.
The children also learned about the science behind tornadoes and asked their art teacher to draw a picture of one. Education using funnels from their indoor sand table and drawings was a part of easing fears for some.
No, grandma was not riding a tornado to visit for the holiday. And yes, their beloved "Mrs. Storey" was coming back after visiting her hometown. Other, more worried kids in the class tuned into what can happen when nature goes awry. The next day, on April 16, in their home state, an estimated 25 tornadoes, including five with winds in excess of 135 miles per hour, hit at least 32 counties across North Carolina.
In the spirit of keeping some normalcy in the lives of children affected by a tragedy, one Virginia church sponsored "Project Easter Basket" and asked for public support. What kids connect to is the small picture: individual baskets. But not seeing flattened homes and devastated families on the TV news again and again.
In Virginia, Wythe County proved to be a good neighbor to Pulaski County, a local reporter wrote. Multiple assistance for residents of the tornado-stricken area began soon after the April 8 disaster and continues in several ways.
Members of one Virginia congregation piece quilts together every month as a mission project. The quilts have been sent to disaster spots all over the world, and now to Pulaski's storm victims.
The American Red Cross is helping people across several states and will continue to assist them in the weeks ahead as they try to get back on their feet.
More than 650 Red Cross disaster workers have been deployed. The Red Cross is accepting online donations at www.redcross.org, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. You can also text 90999 to make a $10 donation.
For local help, contact your local Red Cross chapter.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and teaches preschool. If you have tips or questions, please email her at email@example.com or call Parent to Parent at 704-236-9510.