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Always willing to help
Ellis Wood, local contractors help facilitate Albany relief efforts
W Ellis Wood 1
Ellis Wood, left, with Ellis Wood Contracting, speaks with an unidentified woman who was a victim of the devastating tornado near Albany last month and a Georgia State Patrol trooper. - photo by Special

Some came with dump trucks, excavators and skid steers. Others showed up with a pick-up truck and chain saw. And many came with just their bare hands, willing to prepare, cook and deliver meals to the working crew.

The common factor, however, was that all came to serve others in their time of dire need. More than 60 residents from Bulloch County, representing 15 different entities, firms and individuals and surrounding areas, traveled to Albany last month following devastating tornado damage to the southern Georgia area on Jan. 22.

According to storm surveys completed by the National Weather Service, the EF3 tornado that desolated parts of Albany that day stayed on the ground over an hour, ripping a 70-mile swath through five counties in Georgia.

Ellis Wood of Ellis Wood Contracting; his son, Matt, president of Ellis Wood; and Ryan Hooker, vice president of Ellis Wood, facilitated the relief effort.

Following an assessment of the area and after consulting with appropriate authorities in charge, a decision was made to form a relief team.

“The three of us got together after the tornadoes to see what we could do,” Ellis Wood said. “Matt, Ryan and I discussed the options.

“A relief effort is a costly event, time and money. We looked at the local counties affected, talked with (Bulloch County Public Safety Director) Ted Wynn, talked with the director of GEMA (the Georgia Emergency Management Agency) and the colonel of the state patrol.”

Wood said that while local counties had assistance lined up, other areas in the state still needed help.

“It became confirmed that Dougherty County, Albany, had some tremendous needs. We met with GEMA, the mayor and other local officials to confirm our decision,” Wood said.

Ellis said the “boys” — as he referred to his namesake contracting company’s president and vice president — organized the volunteers. With calls and texts, volunteers responded quickly that they would join the relief effort.

Matt Wood said he keeps a disaster relief list of volunteers updated at all times.

“Most times, these events come as short notice,” Ellis Wood said. “You can’t procrastinate. Some people on the list can’t go for various reasons.”

Within just a couple of days, the initial research and assessment was completed, and the 60-plus person team was ready to pull out. With a group that large and the sheer number of huge pieces of equipment involved, the group always travels together.

“We can’t get all that junk we have with us down the road without law enforcement help,” said Wood, referring to the immense convoy of vehicles.

And they never leave town without prayer for protection, safety and guidance.

“I don’t remember us ever leaving for a relief effort that a Mr. Guido didn’t pray for us,” he said, referencing his dear late friend Dr. Michael Guido, founder of Guido Ministries in Metter who is known as “The Sower” for his short radio and television messages entitled “Seeds from the Sower.” Guido always prayed before Wood’s previous relief efforts, and Dr. Larry Guido, Michael’s brother and president of Guido Ministries today, prays over current efforts.

 

The Guido brothers

Ellis and Kathy Wood met Michael Guido soon after moving to Statesboro and often attended revival services with him. Ellis Wood became Guido’s chauffeur, piloting him for years to speaking engagements, like the time Guido spoke to legislators in Atlanta.

Larry Guido credits Wood with Guido Ministries’ holiday event that thousands have attended.

“If Ellis hadn’t taken Michael and Audrey to Nashville during the holidays years ago, there would be no Guido Gardens’ Nights of Lights,” he said.

Rev. Larry Guido and Dr. John Waters, pastor of First Baptist Church Statesboro, met the relief group to pray before they pulled out of town. Ellis said that just before their return trip on Sunday morning, an Albany county employee, the assistant public works department director, held Sunday school services and prayed for the group’s departure.

 

Passion to offer help

When asked about their passion for their work with relief efforts, Matt Wood simply said, “It’s just the right thing to do. We’re nothing but the facilitators on our end.”

Ellis Wood added: “God has given us some resources that we feel we can use to help other people.”

And help others they have. The humble men don’t like to talk about the volume of assistance they’ve provided over the years and are quick to talk about the “group effort” involved in the events, extolling the organizational skills of various disaster relief agencies, elaborating on the assistance provided by law enforcement agencies, bragging on “one whole group of volunteers whose sole job is food service — buying, preparing, getting it cooked and delivered to workers; praising the volunteers who work tirelessly to get the job done.”

“We have people who call us and say, ‘When are we going?’ before we even get the chance to complete our assessment,” Matt Wood said.

Ellis Wood said he’s lost count of the number of missions he’s been a part of.

“There’s Americus: Our convoy was 5 miles long on the interstate,” he said. “Screven, Georgia: Some drove back and forth from Statesboro; some slept in Jesup. Charleston:  There were no hotels or restaurants available. We slept on the beach and took all our food in.”

There was also Waynesboro, Macon, Effingham, Wrens, Swainsboro, Griffin and Monticello.

“Each situation is unique to a particular area,” he said. “That’s part of the research to see if food, housing and diesel fuel is available. We had crews working in seven or eight locations in Albany. That takes a lot of knowledge about the need in a certain area.”

A local business has always provided that service.

Wood pointed out that their crew includes a full-time person to repair and replace large and small vehicle tires.

“With all the debris on the ground, we lose tires constantly, and generally there’s no tire store open in a devastated town,” he said.

Wood said he fell into work with relief efforts after moving to Bulloch County in the mid-1970s and became close friends with then Sheriff Arnold Ray Akins. As a helicopter pilot, Wood would often fly Akins to assess damaged areas following local disasters. The two had a contact in Charleston whom they flew to check on after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and to deliver a generator. Seeing the devastation prompted the two men to organize a relief effort.

 

Involving family

Matt Wood was just 10 at the time, but he and his sister, April, and Ellis Wood’s wife, Kathy, observed and participated in his efforts over the years. In fact, on the most recent trip to Albany, Matt’s 8-year-old son, Porter, helped with food delivery, marking three generations serving in the Albany relief effort. Four other father-and-son teams took part in the endeavor as well.

Even though a heart attack in April 2010 grounded Ellis Wood from piloting his helicopter, nothing holds him back from helping others in need — or, as he says, “facilitating the group’s efforts.”

Whatever he calls it, Bulloch and surrounding counties are blessed to have the efforts of those three men whose day jobs consist of punching the clock at Ellis Wood Contracting.

 

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