A series of tornadoes in May of this year devastated parts of Oklahoma, taking lives and flattening houses. Two and a half months later, residents still have needs as they try to restart their lives.
On August 5-10, Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery partnered with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and World Vision to help meet many of those needs through the recovery effort Loving Oklahoma.
More than 130 volunteers scattered across a widespread area from El Reno to Shawnee, Okla. to aid in debris pick-up, house construction, donation sorting and other needs. Many came in church groups and some came as individuals.
According to Daniel Cana from Philippine Trinity Baptist Church in Stafford, Texas, more lives were impacted than the residents who received help.
"All this teamwork and effort has not only reached the tornado victims, but it has reached the volunteers," he explained. "It's amazing to see God work in our own lives."
Each crew was assigned a different location based on their size and abilities. Several teams grouped together to tend to fields in El Reno, where a 2.6 mile-wide tornado ripped through two days before harvest. They helped clear debris for farmers so they can plow again.
"It's so devastating when what you've worked 20 years for is gone in 20 minutes," said Dennis Elmenhoarst, a famer dealing with the disaster aftermath. He lost his cattle, four pick-up trucks, a combine, his house, over 1,000 acres of wheat and much more. A safe room kept his family from harm, but his livelihood is at stake.
He is grateful for the help provided by Loving Oklahoma volunteers. With clear fields, he hopes to plow again soon.
Volunteers also assisted the Furniture Bank of Oklahoma City. They put together furniture and organized the warehouse. Pam Wanzer, director of the Furniture Bank, said she was amazed by the diligent work put in by Loving Oklahoma volunteers.
They doubled the workload anticipated for that day, she said, and never hesitated to ask "What else can we do?"
The distribution center has provided more than 400 families with free items donated by Thomasville Furniture. They expect to help more than 300 more.
In McLoud, Okla., Loving Oklahoma volunteers helped resident Jerry Smith, who lost his home completely in the tornado. The crew put siding on the brand new home he has begun rebuilding.
"People are in the right place as the Lord has put them here," said Jill Hatcher, Oklahoma Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Disaster Response Coordinator. "It's a beautiful testimony of what the body of Christ is."
Overall, Loving Oklahoma volunteers completed 40 jobs and worked 2,640 man hours. There were 28 churches and 4 institutions represented.
By Leah Allen