Like many, Martha made a difference
Published 11:37 am Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Local Alabama Power Co. employee Martha Simmons was recognized in the company's employee newsletter last month for her efforts to help people after Hurricane Ivan.
Martha was embarrassed by the article, but the praise was well-deserved. It is reprinted here to make her blush just one more time. Like many others among us, she went to work and made a difference. We salute her and the countless other volunteers whose stories have not yet been told.
The saying that one person can make a difference was proved true in Brewton following Hurricane Ivan. When the people in her town were crying out for water after the Sept. 16 storm, Martha Simmons found a way to get it.
Simmons, who had evacuated due to the storm, was returning home with her family Sept. 17 when she began getting cell phone calls from relatives and friends in Brewton begging her to bring them ice and water. The town was one of the hardest hit areas in Alabama.
"It got the best of me," said Simmons, Brewton Office customer service representative.
When her family stopped at a Wal-Mart in Clinton, Miss., Simmons decided to make a deal with the manager. Her idea was for Wal-Mart to partner with Alabama Power to provide water for her town.
"I showed the manager my Alabama Power ID because I wanted him to know I was for real," explained Simmons. "I said, 'I'll make a deal with you. I will rent a trailer and buy the ice and ice chest from you, if you will provide the water.'"
But Wal-Mart suggested an even better plan. The store's food marketing manager arranged for a truckload of water to be shipped from Wal-Mart's headquarters in Arkansas directly to Brewton.
"He told me, 'You don't have to buy anything. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) will provide the ice. We have a truck that is being loaded with water for your town. You just tell me where you want it to go.'" Simmons said.
But Simmons' job wasn't over yet. When the water arrived in Brewton two days later, she asked the local radio station to make an announcement about its availability.
Then, Simmons made another deal. She offered the Escambia County Sheriff's Department sandwiches left over after feeding Alabama Power employees on storm duty. In turn, the detention center provided three inmates to help Simmons and her husband Aquilla distribute the water.
Spotting FEMA's ice pickup site, she made arrangements to get the water delivered there. An Alabama National Guard member who was unloading an 18-wheeler at the location offered to send it to Wal-Mart to pick up the water. In just three hours, Simmons, her husband and the inmates distributed every drop of the 12 pallets of bottled water that Simmons received from Wal-Mart.
"When we got through, we were blistered," she said. "But you felt like you were a millionaire."
Simmons said she could not have distributed the water without the support of Alabama Power and her co-workers.
She especially thanked fellow Customer Service Representative Doris James and Appliance Salesperson Bill Henderson, both of the Brewton Office. While Simmons was handing out the water, James and Henderson were responding to customers, delivering lunches and peeling apples to make homemade pies for the crews. Brewton employees were working 17-hour days to respond to storm-related power outages.
"But I didn't do it. My company did it. If I hadn't been an employee of Alabama Power, I wouldn't have gotten the water," she noted.