Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rebuilding their Lives

Let me set one thing straight. I am not writing this post to brag about "how awesome I am and how I must be such a good person for helping those in Oklahoma last week." If you comment on this blog-post, please refrain from complimenting me - it is unnecessary. I share photos and stories because I want everyone to see that mankind is good by nature. Tragedies like May 20, 2013 bring strangers together and no one discriminates. Here is my experience in a nutshell; I hope these stories will inspire you.

On Monday evening the tornado hits and media spreads the devastating news. Jason was working out of town and called me immediately. "Dana, ask around for people to gather supplies. I'm coming home tomorrow and we are going to Oklahoma to help." I get on FB and post a request for supplies. Word spreads to neighbors and friends at church....then they pass the word to others. By Tuesday evening, we are in need of a trailer for all the supplies people donated. Dozens of people went out of their way to donate and I can't even begin to name them all; but I have to give a special shout-out to 3 VERY influential people...Keri Jackson, Amy Jackson, and Jennifer ladies are AWESOME!!

Just to give you an idea of the SOME things that were donated: 10 HUGE black garbage bags of clothes, cases of water, hundreds of granola bars, crackers & PB, canned food, baby food, baby formula, 52 MRE's, stuffed animals, toys & books, blankets, boxes & boxes of every toiletry you can think of. I visited Home Depot to purchase goods and the store donated 8 headlamps & 31 pairs of leather work gloves. Jennifer Galek spread the word to those at her work and raised over $1600 - with the money she was able to purchase 20 shovels, 21 flashlights, 40 gloves, 20 baseball caps, ~150 pairs of socks, ~80 pairs of underwear, 15 sports bras, 4 blankets, 16 packs of baby wipes, ~360 toothbrushes, toothpastes, deodorants, lotions, hand sanitizers. (I'm sure that I'm even forgetting lots of stuff!) She also put together kids' bags to hand out with coloring books, markers, bubbles & stuffed animals. The photo below is just a small bit of what we were able to collect and deliver. The trailer we pulled was completely packed with supplies!!!

Just a small sampling of what we collected
We loaded up the trailer on Wednesday night and headed out the next morning. The boys "helped" me make the sign for the back of the trailer. I'll admit, it felt good to have people honking and giving us thumbs up as we drove down the highway. The support from other drivers just reinforced that we were about to do something great for others.
When we got to Moore, this is just some of what we saw. There were neighborhoods that were completely demolished by the tornado. There was nothing standing for blocks.  Vehicles were tossed around like toy cars and they landed down the street from where they were picked up.

Trees with a 10 foot base were completely uprooted.

Our first stop was at a hotel to meet and help the sister of our dear friend. Meet Marty (pictured with my husband and kids=). Marty and her 2 sons lost their home from the tornado (see photo below). When news of the upcoming tornado, Marty and her sons rushed to the bathroom, hid in the tub & covered themselves with a mattress. It is a miracle no one was hurt. Marty & her sons are in the process of recovering what is left in their home, but have very little in good condition to keep.   They were able to stay at Life Church for a few nights until their home insurance paid for a hotel. They have one month in the hotel before they need to find a new home. Their cars were totaled and with only liability insurance, they will not be funded for a replacement car. Marty's niece (a good friend of mine) is raising money for her to rebuild their lives. If you would like to contribute, follow the link. =)
What is left of Marty's home.

After meeting up with Marty, we hit the neighborhoods with our trailer of supplies. We asked every person in sight "What do you need?" Initially, each person would just wave us on and say that they needed nothing. BUT, as soon as we started listing all the supplies in the trailer, inevitably, there was something that interested them....shovels, gloves, a baseball cap, a granola bar, clean socks and even a new pair of underwear. You know, people don't mind working in dirty clothes, but EVERYONE likes a clean pair of underwear!! ;) 
Meet Deena. She lives across the street from Marty and lost her home as well. Deena ran an in-home daycare and at the time she was taking care of 6 young children. When the tornado hit, she was huddled over the children in her closet. 2 cars fell on top of her house, but with the Lord's mercy, everyone crawled out unharmed. When we met Deena, they had just removed the 2 cars from her house and she was digging through the rubble. She didn't get much out - I noticed a highchair, a few toys, glass bowls & some kitchen pots. It was inspiring to talk to Deena - despite the circumstances, she was in such good spirits. We later met one of the children that was in her home at the time - a little 2 year old girl - we were able to give her one of the kids' bags.  Deena's next door neighbor was not so fortunate. Her neighbor was huddled down with her teenage son during the storm, but was killed when the tornado hit the house.

You wouldn't believe people's gratitude for the things that we delivered. Everyone was so overwhelmed at Austin's generosity. With the Sooner/Long Horn rivalry, one man said "Well, the Sooners sure love and appreciate the Long Horns right now!!"  It was interesting to see what people were most excited to receive. The women wanted a razor more than anything else. Multiple women explained how they "just wanted to feel like a woman again."  We were also able to give them sports bras and underwear. Many people will have to replace all of the clothing in their homes because it got wet and covered in housing insulation (which you shouldn't wear, even if washed.)  One man couldn't stand to leave his home at night, so he was camping out there each night - we gave him a much needed lantern and supplies.

While driving around neighborhoods, one man asked if we had any extra shoes in our trailer (he was wearing sandals). I dug through and found a pair of Jason's old tennis shoes that I had thrown in last minute. It was the ONLY pair of men's shoes in the trailer and they were the EXACT shoe size for that man. What a tender mercy of the Lord. By then, we had already given away all of our new socks, so Jason took his socks off and gave them to the man. Yeah, they were probably dirty, but that man didn't care.

This is Sheri and her family (pictured with myself, husband and my boys). They completely lost their home from the tornado. We were able to give a lot of donations to this family. The kids, Braden & Sierra were thrilled about the kids' bags that Jeni Galek put together and we had other toys donated from others that they so excited to receive. (There were a few more children in this family that were not in the neighborhood at the time; but we left some items for them to take as well =) Talking to this family really put life into perspective for me. Of course, losing their home, belongings, and vehicles was devastating; but they were filled with so much gratitude for their lives. They are full of optimism and hope for rebuilding their future. Despite their awful circumstances, they were smiles the whole time we were with them.

I saw this and had to take a photo....oh, the irony.

A community playground nearby.
People can have a sense of humor during crisis....they laugh so they don't cry.

We spoke to the man that owned this "house" and we were able to give him the last package of underwear that we had left in our trailer. And man, was he grateful.
We were able to be in Moore for part of Memorial Day weekend and we saw many flags above the rubble. It was both humbling and empowering to see these flags. The United States is a blessed country and our citizens will always come together in times of crisis... religion, race, political party, economic all goes out the window when a fellow American needs help. I am so grateful that my family could be a small part of helping those in Moore. In fact, I felt selfish to be the lucky person who delivered those supplies and to see the the gratitude on people's faces. They all asked who we were and I was proud to tell them that the people of Austin donated these supplies and were praying for the families in Moore

It was hard to understand how one house could be standing unharmed (missing a few shingles) while the house next door was completely demolished, along with the rest of the neighborhood. We saw this a lot throughout the neighborhoods. Crazy.
Throughout our short time in Moore I expressed many moments of frustration to Jason. I felt like we weren't making a difference.  I kept telling him that all the little stuff in our trailer was insignificant to what these people need....they no longer have a home, a bed, furniture, clothing or those irreplaceable photos. Jason had to remind me many times that the things we brought were in fact.....PRECIOUS to them. Insurance will pay for much of what they lost, but we were bringing them hope, love, and prayers from Austin. Even if someone only needed one item from our trailer, it meant the world to them.
I'm sorry that I didn't get a photo or the name of this woman, but she was so brave. With news of the tornado, she was able to hide out in this storm shelter underground and remain safe (pictured above). The sad part of her story is that her husband had a broken hip and could not get down there with her. He had to stay in the home during the storm and is now hospitalized with more injuries. He will be out of the hospital soon and be okay, but what a sad story. I couldn't imagine the fear and helplessness of that wife when she had to leave her husband in the house during the storm. When we offered supplies to this woman, she didn't need anything. I gave her a long hug and a stuffed animal.

Throughout all the neighborhoods, different organizations set up tents with food and water. This particular group was grilling hot dogs and burgers for anyone who came by. Many residents spent the days picking through the remainder of their home and were too busy to seek out food and volunteers walked through the neighborhoods pushing shopping carts or dollies filled with food, sandwiches, water and gatorade. The Wal-Mart parking lot was FILLED with trucks and outdoor tents....TIDE had set up dozens of washers and dryers in the parking lot so that victims could wash their clothes for free. One organization in the parking lot had 20,000 burgers they were grilling with chips and drinks - free to anyone.  When we walked in the wal-mart store, the aisles were absolutely packed with pallets of products and racks and racks of clothes - I would be surprised if you could fit a cart down some aisles! We heard Home Depot was allowing victims to come get supplies that they needed free of cost. No matter where we went in Moore, people were helping and were kind to one another- it was a humbling experience.

When we stopped at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an empty semi truck was parked in the parking lot and had just delivered a full trailer of work supplies.....chainsaws, wheel barrows, gloves, rakes, shovels, water, hygiene kits, work shirts generators, sleeping cots, propane tanks, etc, etc. Later that weekend, volunteers were able to do some amazing work with those supplies. Follow this link for more details.

On our drive out of Moore, we followed this rainbow.  The tornado victims have a long road of building ahead of them, but here's some hope for the people of Oklahoma.

At the end of our trip, we still had some clothes and some supplies left. We stopped at a hotel and left toiletries, coloring books, markers & bubbles in the front lobby. Many parents didn't take their kids back to the houses and we had no other way to contact them. The lady at the front desk told me there were at least 20 children in the hotel who had lost their homes  - and I'm sure they were thrilled to receive those toys. We left the remaining clothes with some friends in Moore. Those clothes have been organized and set aside for a few specific families who lost their single mother with 8 children and another family with 4 children.

At first, I was overwhelmed at the thought of bringing our 3 year old twin boys and our 1 year old boy to Oklahoma with us. But, as we gathered donations, and saw the excitement from the twins, there was no way we could leave them. This was an experience that they will never forget and a lesson that I could never teach from a book. It was a harsh reality for them to see these homes and  talk to the kids who lost everything; but it was also heart-softening for them. Jason and I watched as Arlo & Josiah gave hugs to the kids and were so excited to give the children toys.  My children learned, first hand, sympathy and compassion for others.

Thank you to all who gave. Your donations were gratefully received. Please continue praying for Moore.