May, 21st, 2013 – Moore once again found itself in the path of an EF-5 tornado, 14 years after the 1999 tornado. Twenty-one deaths were confirmed including 9 children. These are just some of the facts, but little can prepare one for the destruction left by such a powerful act of nature.
Numerous organizations launched their relief efforts to assist the survivors including our partners, Save the Children, Adventist Community Services and The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Aidmatrix deployed me after connecting with some of our partners and a new organization, Mercy Chefs, which ‘vetted’ me to work in Moore on Memorial Day and the following Tuesday.
Memorial Day, 6:45a – driving north on Interstate 35, everything looked normal as I passed Exit 116 heading to Exit 117 – 4th Street. As I approached, a dramatic line etched itself across the highway from west to east. South of the line - normalcy; north of the line - devastation. Six weeks after Katrina, I traveled to Biloxi and Gulfport, MS to assist in clean-up efforts; the graphic aftermath of natural disasters never jades one.
Turning west onto 4th Street, the remains of the Moore Medical Center with its exposed steel girders and destroyed vehicles caught my eye. West of the hospital, I located Southgate Baptist Church with Tyson Foods trailers in front and Mercy Chefs mobile kitchens in the back lot. Southgate hosted us and converted its gym into a warehouse providing donations to the community. On its front lawn, Mercy Hospital/OKC provided tetanus shots and minor wound care.
For the next 1.5 days, 9 chefs – from Detroit and Virginia to Myrtle Beach and Texas - and approximately 20 volunteers from Kentucky, Texas and beyond prepped, served and delivered hot meals to survivors, volunteers and utilities workers. Chefs Debbie Lowe and Kristin Macan facilitated meal planning with the other chefs and ordered the food supplies for three hot meals daily.
After preparing and serving Monday’s breakfast from our base, we drove into neighborhoods searching for hungry people cleaning up their property, some still living in their homes. Meanwhile volunteers prepped lunch and by mid-afternoon dinner prep began.
Day 2/2nd shift – prepping lunch and dinner included learning some knife skills from Chef Peter of Myrtle Beach and mixing two large tubs of sweet potatoes for dinner. I was also ‘biscuit lady’ in the serving line and assumed the role of teaching new volunteers the ropes.
After the lunch shift, I headed up I-35 to Hope 7-th Day Adventist Fellowship/Moore, connecting with warehouse facilitator, Julie Pullie. ACS (Adventist Community Services) has gained significant expertise in setting up warehouses after disasters and providing volunteers; they are a valued partner in our disaster response. I was provided a tour of their warehouse facilities and worked with Iba, a retired nurse, managing baby items for donation. Before leaving, a box of canned goods was loaded into my car for donation to the OKC food bank.
Heading north again, my last stop of the day was at The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City to connect with Steve Moran, Gina Ward and their team. The food bank serves 53 counties in central and western Oklahoma including 1,000 community pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and schools. A day spent with this food bank in January 2012 included early morning deliveries to Regency Park Baptist Church, Moore Community Center and a food & clothing pantry; with this previous introduction to Moore, the 2013 tornado compelled me to return.
Steve warmly greeted me and spoke about their distribution efforts in Moore. From their website, “The Regional Food Bank has opened a Disaster Relief Distribution Center at 2635 North Shields in Moore, OK. The Distribution Center's phone number is 405-600-3182”. Recently Southgate Baptist Church contacted me preparing to close their warehouse and wanted to donate non-perishable food to the food bank. With a call to Steve, he graciously agreed to reach out to them and assist.
Natural disasters devastate communities and change lives forever. However, such events also provide opportunities for much-needed outreach. Over two days, I was privileged to ‘love on’ members of the Moore community and partner with local volunteers as well as those who’d traveled a great distance. I was thanked continuously by those we served, but I was the beneficiary of my time spent there. Memorial Day 2013 will not be forgotten, and look forward to returning to Moore as it rebuilds again.
Aidmatrix Program Specialist