Church leader pioneers effort to bring $1 million storm shelter to Harvest

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HARVEST, Ala. (WHNT)-- One woman's determination and heart will soon mean unmatched safety for hundreds of residents in Harvest.

The storm shelter-- expected to be completed late this summer-- is a project Reverend Suzanne Katschke of Cross Winds United Methodist Church began four years ago following the devastation the April 27, 2011 tornado brought to Harvest.

"It was sheer devastation" in 2011, Katschke recounts. Harvest has been hit four times in the last three decades-- each time by some of the most violent tornadoes Mother Nature produces.

Chief Tim Westwick of the Harvest Volunteer Fire Department adds, "the devastation is always incredible. [1995] was unreal and in 2011, [we lost] about one-third of our houses."

Rev. Suzanne Katschke and Harvest Fire Chief Tim Westwick at the construction site of a community storm shelter behind Cross Winds United Methodist Church at 8089 Wall Triana Highway in Harvest. (Photo: Bob Gathany/

Rev. Suzanne Katschke and Harvest Fire Chief Tim Westwick at the construction site of a community storm shelter  in Harvest. (Photo: Bob Gathany/

Westwick has been an instrumental player in turning this storm shelter into a reality.

Katschke had 14 days to apply for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant needed to fund a large percentage of the project. This application process involves establishing the construction guidelines, and a host of operational guidelines, like under what conditions the storm shelter opens.

At maximum capacity, the shelter will offer safety to 500 people.

"It has been a long journey shepherding this for four years now, but just to know that [they will be safe] brings me a great sense of peace and just an incredible sense of joy," says Katschke.

A gathering will be held at the shelter Saturday, April 18 to celebrate the welcomed addition to the Harvest community. The event is free and Katschke says it will go as planned rain or shine. There will be free food and a truck-touch where kids can see emergency vehicles and climb inside a med-flight helicopter.

The shelter is located on Wall Triana Highway.

Fundraising efforts for the project continue. To donate or to learn more about the Harvest community storm shelter, click here.

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