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Sanford Lowe's kicks off event to benefit American Red Cross

Nearly a year ago, a tornado destroyed the Lowe's Home Improvement store in Sanford. Beginning Wednesday, the store in will kick off a "Give Back, Pay it Forward" event to help benefit the American Red Cross.

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SANFORD, N.C. — The Lowe's Home Improvement store in Sanford has represented many things in the last year. On April 16, 2011, it was one of the most visible symbols of the damage caused by an EF3 tornado that tore through Lee County. 

In September, the store became a symbol of resilience and hope when it reopened just five months after it was destroyed. 

Beginning Wednesday, the store hopes to become an example as it marks the one year anniversary of the storm by kicking off a campaign designed to give back to an organization the helped it rebuild.

The store will host a "Give Back, Pay it Forward" event until April 18 to benefit the American Red Cross, an organization that responded in a big way after the storms devastated the area. 

The store will collect donations throughout the week, and Red Cross representatives will be in the store Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to talk about preparing for disasters. On Monday, exactly one year after the storm, the American Red Cross will be hosting a blood drive from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Donations can also be made online through the American Red Cross website.

Red Cross volunteers set up shop in Sanford in the days after the storm, serving food and packing snacks for families who lost everything in the storm. The Red Cross helped 581 families and provided more than $500,000 in direct financial assistance to families impacted by the storms.

"That night, for me, I remember them (the Red Cross) being here in an hour, getting us supplies, getting anything we needed," said Lowe's store manager Mike Hollowell. "We are trying to do that for them and help the community any way we can."

When the store reopened in September, bands played, people danced and hundreds of people, possibly as man as 1,000, came out to celebrate.

More than 100 employees and customers were in the store when the tornado ripped the steel roof off the building. No one was seriously hurt, thanks to the quick action of Hollowell and his staff who moved everyone to the back of the store, where there are no windows.

While repairs were being made, Lowe's transferred all 160 workers from the Sanford store to other stores across the region, providing transportation for them to Pittsboro, Cary, Fayetteville, Chapel Hill, Southern Pines, Smithfield, Clayton, Erwin, Apex, Mebane, Laurinburg and Durham.