While most Arkansans are sick of this winter’s weather, Central Arkansas has endured nothing as extreme as some of the other regions across the South and the United States.
One former North Little Rock woman said she will remember the recent Southern blizzard for many years to come.
Jamie Smith-Leonard now serves as a minister for the Salvation Army in Alabaster, Ala.
On Jan. 28, she was attending a meeting in Birmingham and left at 10:30 a.m. to travel about 45 minutes to her home.
Unfortunately, the ice hit, traffic became a nightmare and she stayed on Interstate 65 South until 2 a.m. on Wednesday. Through a series of flukes, she found a hotel room even though many people had been told for several hours that none were available.
She stayed at an Extended Stay Marriott in Homewood, Ala.
When she woke up the next morning, she could hear children in the hallways and began to get acquainted with the other people who were stranded.
The nearby Wal-Mart was closed and it was being used to house people who were stranded. Leonard was able to talk her way inside as a Salvation Army official. She bought board games and playing cards, toiletries and enough food to cook beef stew, cornbread and cookies for the people stranded in the hotel.
“The experience was great, but truly is nothing out of the ordinary in the service as a Salvation Army officer. I’m just a normal gal who saw a big need and knows an extraordinary God,” said Leonard.
Leonard also met a lady who had slept all night at the Wal-Mart. The lady recognized the Salvation Army uniform and spoke with Leonard.
Leonard invited her back to the hotel for a while where she was able to get a hot shower, help cook the meal, and charge her phone.
Leonard said it felt good trying to help others while she was not in the best of situations herself.
“Why wouldn’t I help if I had the means? The folks I stayed with at that hotel were mostly not from around here. Because it was an extended stay, there were quite a few people who were in town for medical treatments at area hospitals,” Leonard said.
Leonard said she was finally able to leave a few days later and made it home safely. The lady she met at Wal-Mart became her friend and Leonard found that they don’t live far from each other.
“We were able to caravan in case of additional problems,” Leonard said.
Leonard said what helped a lot was perfect strangers working together to make the best of a bad situation.
“But, last night around a pot of beef stew, we were a family…just getting through a rough time together. It was beautiful.”
Her mother, Susan Smith, of North Little Rock, said she is happy with her daughter’s reaction during the terrible storm.
“Obviously, I’m a very proud mom,” said Smith. “ As a local Salvation Army volunteer, I’m not only proud of my daughter, but also proud of my organization for providing such love and care.”