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Airplanes swooping down low over the cotton fields of Alabama. That’s one of Doris Hale’s first memories as a little girl. “I was born November 30, 1965,” she said. “My mother worked in the fields, and we stayed on people’s places.”

Hale, who walks with a cane, recalled getting sprayed—and not just once.

“The airplanes, they would come down real low and spray that cotton poison on you, and we were born with deformities—arthritis, allergies, stuff like that,” she said.

Homeowner Doris Hale with MDS & DAO Project Director Gid Yoder

It’s an environmental disaster that has plagued generations of families in Selma, Alabama, as the effects of insecticide—sprayed indiscriminately in the cotton fields during the years when Hale was a small child—have been passed down from mothers to children who’ve never set foot in the fields.

A more visible disaster weighed onto the backs of people in Selma on Jan. 12, 2023, when a tornado tore across the city, staying on the ground for almost 23 miles with wind speeds that peaked at 130 mph.

Hale stayed in her home, and believes she received a message from God that it wasn’t time to die.

“It’s been 59 years, and every year that passes, I get closer and closer to the Lord, and you can see He gets closer to me,” she said.

But her small home, which sits only 50 yards from the railroad tracks on the edge of Selma, was nearly crushed. On the first day of spring, she stood in the yard as volunteers from Disaster Aid Ohio, which works under the MSD umbrella, repaired her home.

It’s the only home she’s ever owned, and it’s the only place she wants to be. “The Lord not only gave me a house—he gave me a home, and words cannot express how I feel.”

A train rushed by, nearly drowning out her next words. “I’ve been listening to that train since I was a little girl,” said Hale. “I’d say to my mama: I won’t go to bed until I hear the train.”

Home of Doris Hale. MDS & DAO volunteers Cindy Yoder & Bruce Raber

Gid Yoder, Disaster Aid Ohio project director, estimated that Hale, who is living with family members in Selma, will be able to move back into her house by the summertime.

She’s so happy she can’t contain it. “Lord, have mercy, if I had a million, trillion, zillion dollars, and could be anyplace on this earth right now—I’d be right here today,” said Hale.

What’s the first thing she’s planning to do when she moves in? “I’m going to kneel down on the step and pray,” she said. “Then I’m going to fix a bacon cheeseburger, curly fries, and a double glass of cherry Kool-Aid.”

Yoder finished checking on the progress volunteers have made in Hale’s house and turned to say goodbye. It’s not easy to leave Doris Hale, especially when she’s in a mood to pray.

“Someday, we’ll all meet up in heaven,” Yoder said.

“Well, we don’t want to go just yet,” Hale said. “But be ready. Stay prayed up.”


Susan Kim, MDS Writer


Interested to hear more about recovery efforts in Selma? Click here to hear reflections from a volunteer!

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