Disaster Relief, Impact

Lessons Learned in Oklahoma

In May, 2013 an EF5 tornado tore through Moore, OK, killing 24 people and injuring 377 others.  They estimate 1,150 homes were destroyed and damages were estimated at $2 billion.  Among the damaged buildings were 2 schools.  7 students were killed at one of the schools.

The EF5 tornado was the last of several to hit the area, and the devastation was massive.

In the following weeks we collected over 2,800 new and gently used stuffed animals and other needed comfort items and we drove them back to Moore, OK to personally distribute them. It was part of the core mission to make sure every single donation went to someone in need.  

Arriving in Moore was one of the most heartbreaking times we’ve ever experienced. Touring the devastated areas was nothing short of life-changing.  Seeing the homes with paint on them indicating if they were inhabitable or condemned was bizarre, to say the least.  How houses right next to each other could sustain such different amounts of damage is hard to comprehend.

What was most interesting was the reaction we got from the larger nonprofits.  As a new organization we went to OK thinking everyone was working together for the common goal of making OK whole again.

We were wrong.

Every organization we talked to told us to take our donations elsewhere. They suggested we donate them to a Goodwill in another state because they had all the donations they could handle.  

Discouraged we headed back to our hotel.

Later that night we went to a 7-11 to grab some soda and snacks.  Turns out, that quick stop would forever shape our future.

We met a lovely lady there who was so upset she was in tears.  She was from a small community right outside of town. A community that had been forgotten.

She was at 7-11 picking up diapers for a neighbor who was out.  As we talked with her we learned that her entire area had been all but forgotten. They had gotten no donations, they were without power for almost a week immediately after the tornadoes, and the people there were leaning on each other because there was no one else to lean on.

When we told her we had been sent away she begged us to come deliver the donations to her community.  They needed everything.  Clothes, toys, pet food…everything.

Even later that night we drove out to her house to deliver the donations. We were met at the driveway by the most grateful people I have ever seen in my life.  

We delivered all of the donations and have since stayed in touch with the family.  The donations helped out 13 different families who were need. Families who had thought they had been forgotten.

We learned a lot on that trip. Lessons we will take with us for life.

What we learned most is that just because the news or public statements say there is no longer a need, that is not necessarily the case.  That often has far more to do with their resources than the needs of the locals.  

Do your research when you want to donate. Work with an organization that works directly with locals. Here are some key things to look for when donating, things we learned the hard way:

  • When being turned away, are they referring you to someone else or just saying no?
  • Are they citing no need or no resources to accept donations
  • Check with the locals to see what they are saying about relief efforts on the ground. Who is helping and who is not
  • Check them out on a site like CharityNavigator to see how much of their donations go to the people
  • What are people saying about them? Don’t just check the name of the organization, also check out the individual players? Are they respected?

There are a lot of great places to donate, and the important part is making sure the people are getting what they need.


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