A series of tornadoes in May devastated Central Oklahoma, taking lives and flattening houses. Three months later, residents still struggle with needs as they try to restart their lives.
Texas Baptists’ disaster recovery ministry recently partnered with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and World Vision to help meet many of those needs through Loving Oklahoma. Organizers modeled the disaster recovery effort after a similar initiative, Loving West, when volunteers helped the Central Texas town devastated by a fertilizer plant explosion.
Loving Oklahoma volunteers scattered across a widespread area from El Reno to Shawnee to aid in debris pick-up, house construction, donation sorting and other needs.
Marla Bearden, disaster response specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, reported 134 Loving Oklahoma volunteers from 28 churches and four institutions completed 40 jobs and worked 2,640 hours.
Loving Oklahoma touched many lives beyond the residents who received help, said Daniel Cana from Philippine Trinity Baptist Church in Stafford.
“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 location based on the group’s size and abilities. Several teams united to clear debris from fields for farmers in El Reno, where a 2.6 mile-wide tornado ripped through two days before harvest.
“It’s so devastating when what you’ve worked 20 years for is gone in 20 minutes,” said farmer Dennis Elmenhoarst. He lost his home, cattle, four pick-up trucks, a combine and more than 1,000 acres of wheat. A safe room kept his family from harm, but his livelihood was imperiled.
Elmenhoarst expressed gratitude for the help Loving Oklahoma volunteers provided. With clear fields, he hopes to plow again soon.
Volunteers also assisted the Furniture Bank of Oklahoma City by assembling furniture and organizing a warehouse. Pam Wanzer, director of the Furniture Bank, noted she was amazed by the Loving Oklahoma volunteers’ diligent work.
The distribution center has provided more than 400 families free items donated by Thomasville Furniture. They expect to help at least 300 more.
Loving Oklahoma volunteers helped McLoud resident Jerry Smith, who lost his home in the tornado, by installing siding on the house he is building.
“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.”