Needs persist in Oklahoma

BY SUSAN KIM | OKLAHOMA CITY | June 22, 1999


OKLAHOMA CITY (June 22, 1999) -- Shocked by killer tornadoes, numbed by the

loss of 46 people and thousands of homes, then inundated with clothing

donations, Oklahoma may be emerging at last.

Some people even smile when they talk about their first memories after

killer twisters swept through in early May.

"I just remember walking into our church the first Sunday after the

tornado, and seeing clothes occupying one entire half of the auditorium,

and the 900 people that came to church that week had to sit in the other

half," said Caren Ligon, a member of the Oakcrest Church of Christ in

Oklahoma City.

"The rule was that the elderly sat in the first rows, and everybody else

kept going up. We had to truck a lot of clothes to a Mexican Indian

reservation that really needed them," she said.

Ligon still volunteers weekly to distribute donations -- only now they're

under control, stored in a gymnasium that was only half-built when the

tornado hit. "It's still not finished, but actually that's good, because

now it's a warehouse," she said. "To be honest, the construction company

was dragging its feet -- and now we know why. Because God knew we'd need

someplace to keep all this stuff. And thank goodness someone let us borrow

a forklift."

Now the warehouse is filled with the more difficult-to-get donations:

washers, dryers, refrigerators, and ranges stacked three feet high. "We did

just have to put a stop to all the stuff," said Ligon. "Now we're accepting

only financial donations, new appliances, and good furniture."

Many people are only now stopping by that warehouse -- and others dotted

throughout the state -- for the first time. "People are just now finding a

place to live," said Ligon. "Before, they were living with family, friends,

or in a hotel. They had no place to store anything."

Despite long hours spent sorting and often tossing unusable items, Ligon

said she'd almost be buried by clothing donations again just to see

people's generosity firsthand. "You hear all the bad stuff about this

disaster, but there are so many good people doing good things. You just

don't hear about them."

The Oakcrest Church of Christ has collected more than $500,000, and has

already distributed more than $400,000 to disaster survivors. "We received

calls from all over the U.S., and from England, Australia, and Canada,"

said Ligon.

Even such widespread response can be tailored to each family's need. Saint

John the Baptist Catholic Church, in partnership with Associated Catholic

Charities of Oklahoma, is training 10-person crisis teams to adopt families

in need. Deacon Bill Bawden said that, even though feelings of immediacy

are dwindling, many families are still in dire need.

"For example, one family was renting an apartment. They had no renter's

insurance, so when the tornado destroyed their building, they were living

with family. Then they found another apartment but had nothing to move into

it. Not a thing! First we furnished the kitchen, then we bought toys for

their town children," he said.

"A second family's home was blown away, and they were trying to buy another

place. But when they went to qualify, they needed another $1,000. We

offered a $1,000 interest-free loan over a long period of time."

Through the adopt-a-family program, crisis teams work with families for up

to two years. Childrens' needs are also being considered through Camp Noah,

a special day camp being planned by Lutheran Social Services and Lutheran

Disaster Response. The camp will run in July at several sites in and around

Oklahoma City.

Disaster response leaders and pastors also gathered with city officials,

police, and firefighters to discuss ways to better prepare for disasters

and to manage teams of volunteers who are traveling to the state and will

still be needed for months to come.

The storm cut a 19-mile long, half-mile wide swath May 3 through Oklahoma

City and the surrounding areas, destroying an estimated 10,000 homes and

businesses and causing more than $1 billion in damages. Officials rated the

storm an F5, the most powerful. Small towns in several outlying areas were

virtually wiped out.

"If that tornado's 318-mile-an-hour winds were record-breaking, well, then

people's response is unsurpassed, too," said Mike Morton, an auxiliary

captain for the Salvation Army who traveled from Anderson, S.C. to help

manage a distribution center in Oklahoma City.

"It works like a grocery store," he said. "Only there's no check-out. And

we have caseworkers onsite, and a chaplain to pray with people if they

want. We've got food, clothing, cleaning supplies, toiletries, paper

products - and donations keep flowing in. As a matter of fact, we're kind

of inundated."

Posted June 23, 1999


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