In Putnam County, where over 700 structures were damaged last week due to an EF-4 tornado, hundreds of photographs of survivors and their families have been found.
And a volunteer-run project wants to help connect survivors with these memories.
The photos are being collected at the Cookeville Community Center, which has been transformed into a donation hub for victims of the deadly tornado.
Sadie Barrientos is the project coordinator at the center.
“We are actually finding things from Mt. Juliet here, and Lebanon,” Barrientos said.
She has been putting up hundreds of photos on the walls — all in individual plastic bags. Each one has the date it was brought to the center and the area where it was found.
“Occasionally there’s a funny thing,” Barrientos said. “There’s one picture that is of a couple and then randomly right below that there’s a picture of the same couple with one of the people cut out. And they ended up on the wall at the exact same place.”
WPLN News hasn’t been able to confirm if this couple is still together, or if they broke up. And the details about the black and white images of men and women in uniform, or the people wearing costumes, or making goofy faces are still unknown.
That’s what makes these walls bittersweet. They give strangers access — in a way — to photos of people that feel private, or personal, even if you don’t know them.
But on the other hand, it gives this moment hope that maybe those who lost the photographs will be able to find them, and that this will be a catalyst for them to start over.
This is an emotional conflict that Barrientos has to deal with as a volunteer.
When giving WPLN News a tour of the photographs, Barrientos broke down when approaching a modern, black and white image of a baby wrapped in a blanket.
“It breaks my heart,” Barrientos said. “It’s heart breaking to look at and I hope we can get it back to whoever it belongs to.”
Barrientos said the community center will keep receiving photos even after the donation hub closes.
There’s also a Facebook group that is being used as a place where people can post found items from Putnam County.
Tennessee Tech University is archiving the photos online to make it easier for people to access them in a digital way. People who believe they may have lost photos can email [email protected].