1936 Relief Workers served on makeshift counter tops made of metal Coca-Cola signs in the aftermath of the tornado

Tornado relief workers served meals on counter tops made of metal Coca-Cola signs

One of the worst tornadoes in US history ripped through the city of Gainesville, Georgia some 77 years ago and I recently found in the Archives a photo album that documented the situation. The Red Cross  and The Salvation Army both used the Gainesville Coca-Cola bottling plant as headquarters for relief efforts in the storm’s aftermath. I reached out to Michael Nagy, Director and Archivist at The Salvation Army Southern Historical Center, who shared some great detailed images and stories from inside the plant that I had never seen nor heard. My favorite picture is the one which shows relief workers being served refreshments on makeshift serving counters comprised of Coca-Cola cooler crates on the bottom and metal Coca-Cola signs as the counter tops! Many Salvation Army volunteers are seen inside the Coke plant in the photos, and Michael shared some information with me from the 1936 issue of the War Cry, a magazine issued by the Salvation Army in Atlanta. 

1936 Salvation Army Relief Workers at Gainesville, GA Coca-Cola plant after tornado

The Salvation Army relief workers at the Gainesville Coca-Cola plant after tornado

Mr. H. Earl Terrell, the manager of the Gainesville Coca-Cola Bottling Company, turned over his building to be used for the relief effort in any way fit. Food was sorted and a makeshift kitchen was set up to feed hundreds of storm sufferers and workers. The kitchen, which was operated by The Salvation Army workers just hours after the storm and all through the initial nights, was one of the most popular places in town. According to the War Cry, as soon as they were relieved, National Guardsmen, firemen, W.P.A. employees, and all other workers made their way to the kitchen in the Coca-Cola plant. The Salvation Army workers also carried refreshments to those working outside among the ruins of buildings, and “anyone and everyone was fed for the first day and night”. A caption on one of the photos in the magazine put it best: “The pause that refreshes amid the debris”.

1936 Feeding Relief Workers and National Guardsmen at Gainesville, GA Coca-Cola plant after tornado

Relief workers and National Guardsmen gather at the Gainesville Coca-Cola plant

All images courtesy of The Salvation Army Southern Historical Center