Twist of fate

Bluff Park community rallies around a local cook who lost his house in a tornado

by Lauren Dowdle, content director, JBMC Media
photos courtesy of Rod Bonner

A storm might have destroyed his home and everything he owns, but it also showed him how much he and his family are loved.

Late on Jan. 25, an EF-3 tornado ripped through Jefferson County, leaving destruction behind in its path. One of the families impacted by the storm was that of Rod Bonner, head cook at Bluff Park Diner in Hoover.

Bonner, along with his son and girlfriend, were able to escape unharmed, sheltering in their basement. However, they lost everything — their home, car, and all of their belongings. Brett Hubbard, owner of Bluff Park Diner, was one of the first to jump into action the night of the tornado.

Bonner’s girlfriend called him about 11 p.m., saying they were stuck in the basement. So, Hubbard packed a backpack with a flashlight, knife, clothes, and water and headed to their home. Calling first responders on the way to ensure they knew the family was trapped, Hubbard arrived in Fultondale to find downed power lines and the smell of natural gas.

A family member had reached their house already, busting out the window to get the family out of the house. Hubbard wasn’t allowed to drive close to the damage, so he parked and walked about a third of a mile before getting stopped by the police at the end of Bonner’s street. Bonner was able to come and meet him to receive the items he had brought.

“It’s a miracle his family didn’t have a scratch on them,” Hubbard says. “We’re all just thankful.”

When community members found out Bonner was in need, they wanted to help, creating a GoFundMe page, and also collecting essential items. Both previous owners of the diner also reached out to Bonner to help.

“He’s been lifted up so much by the generosity,” Hubbard says. “He told me he didn’t know he had so many friends. He feels very loved.”

Bonner has been at the diner for about 15 years, making Hubbard the third owner he’s worked with. That dedication was especially clear when Bonner returned to work two days after the tornado destroyed his home, telling Hubbard he missed being at work and wanted to get back into his routine.

“He’s been through hard times in his life, but he keeps getting back up,” Hubbard says. “He’s just a genuine person and loves his job. If anyone needs help, he’s there to help. He’s never met a stranger.”

In addition to GoFundMe donations, people can also call the Bluff Park Diner at 205-824-4320 to arrange drop-offs of items like clothing, kitchenware, furnishings, and other necessities.

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