OPERATION: OKC Community Aid

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By now, most people have heard of the deadly tornados that took place in Oklahoma about two weeks ago. In response to these disasters, The Houston Free Thinkers created an event collecting donations to be sent up to the victims. Our main mission was to take the donations directly to the people affected and bypass Red Cross or FEMA. The support was overwhelming and there was enough money and donations to fill up my truck with diesel and rent a U-Haul trailer. So on Thursday May 30th, Derrick Broze and myself began our journey to Oklahoma. We went and picked up the U-Haul trailer and loaded it full of our donations and then headed up to the Woodlands to collect many more donations from Cody Vance's house. His house became a hub for donations up in that area and we want to send a huge thank you to him for coordinating that along with Sterling Russell and many others. We then met up with Amy Watkins-Varon on the road, and she followed us up to Oklahoma with her SUV full of donations that Rachelle Hademenos had helped collect. Rachelle was a major part in the coordinating of this volunteer effort and helped immensely, thank you for all your hard work! 

On the way up to Oklahoma we got caught up in a bad storm that produced heavy rain, golf ball sized hail, wicked lightening and power line ripping winds, that eventually turned into tornados. We rode it out under a carport at motel we found just off of the highway for about 45 minutes. Luckily the tornados skipped the area we were in and we were able to move forward.

Once the storm was clear, it was smooth sailing to Oklahoma City where we stayed the night. The next morning we began our trip to take the donations to the people. We wanted to focus on towns hit by the storms other than Moore, OK, which had gotten the most media coverage and where even calls for no more donations were being made. So our first stop was in Carney, OK about 50 miles east of Oklahoma City. As we entered the town and headed towards the church we had been directed to, we passed several signs saying no more donations accepted at various locations. Once at the church, we met up with pastor Mark Davis who informed us that they were overwhelmed with donations and that they could not take any more except for a specific few items that consisted of tools and feed for pigs, horses and cows. The church had 18 wheelers full of donations, as well as rooms overflowing full of donations.

One of the workers said that they were having to spend too much time sorting through the donations and that it has keeping them from completing other, more crucial tasks. After speaking with some of the volunteers and getting an interview with the pastor and giving them the tools we had, Amy decided to head out to Moore, OK where they were having a benefit lunch and activities for the children affected by the storm. Derrick and I stuck around Carney to capture some of the damage and to see if any help or aid could be given. 

While scoping out the damage, we met James Oliver, who dropped all of his summer college classes in California and hopped on his motorcycle to come volunteer after the storms hit. After interviewing James and getting a feel for the damage, we then headed out to the neighboring town of Wellston that was also hit by a tornado and went to directly to the homes that were hit. There we were told that all the families had more than enough supplies and were now at the point of tearing down and rebuilding their homes.

One of the home owners directed us to the center of town square where they were collecting donations, however the locations were closed when we arrived. Luckily a local store owner said she would hang on to some of the donations we had and taken them to the Fire Department on Monday when they were going to be open again. Once leaving there, we then headed to Shawnee, OK which had several non-FEMA and Red Cross locations that were said to be taking donations. After driving to a couple different locations, we finally made it to a location still accepting donations that was being run by the city of Shawnee on their local fair grounds. While there unloading all the donations we brought, there was a mother and daughter who lost their home gathering supplies to take, making us confident we had found the right place that was actually giving straight to the people affected. Also while we were unloading, a box truck full of supplies showed up all the way from South Carolina by a very generous couple. After dropping off the donations and returning the U-Haul trailer in Oklahoma City, we dodged a couple of deadly tornadoes and made it back to Houston safely.   

 

 

So after going to Oklahoma and traveling to all but one of the towns hit by the tornados, a few things were made very clear. One, is that we as a caring people have so much compassion and power, we can overcome any disaster. It is also clear that when people call for help and are properly heard, it will come from all sorts of places and in many different forms and it is so powerful to see. With that said, is is also clear that people send A LOT of the same types of donations: clothes, shoes, paper products, dog and cat food, water, toiletries, food and baby products, etc. And while all donations are great, the volunteers have to spend so much time sorting out all of these similar donations they already have surplus of, that it is taking time away from other crucial tasks in the rebuilding process. So after going there and seeing it first hand, I would highly recommend sending more specific donations next go round. Those mainly being three things: tools to rebuild and clean up, specialized animal food for cows, horses, and pigs, and most importantly your body. Being able to go up there and stay for any extended amount of time and actually help 'boots on the ground' style, is by far the most effective way to help. I was honored to be a part of this journey and am honored to help be more effective next time we help out and that is my intention of sharing this. We all want our actions to go as far as possible and this journey helped us better see how we can achieve this during disaster relief. Thank you again to everyone who was involved in this process! What a beautiful community we have! 

-Cody Mickey Beaves Adams

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