OK volunteers buried in material donations

BY PJ HELLER | OKLAHOMA CITY | May 15, 1999


OKLAHOMA CITY (May 15, 1999) -- No more "stuff."

That's the word from numerous disaster relief officials, who

say they are inundated with more food, clothing and other materials than

can possibly be used by people affected by the May 3 killer tornadoes which

hit the state.

"The churches are overwhelmed," said Verdie Culpepper, a disaster

consultant with Adventist Disaster Response from Houma, La., and the person

overseeing a 300,000-square-foot multi-agency warehouse which is filled

with donations.

It is just one of several facilities that have sprung up in and around the

Oklahoma City area to handle donations. Others include the Salvation Army

and the locally based Feed the Children.

At the First Baptist Church in Moore, donations are piled high inside and

outside the church, which is serving as a major disaster recovery and

relief site for area residents.

"We're like a big Wal-Mart," said senior associate pastor Herman Kincaid.

Tractor-trailer trucks, filled with clothing and other items, sit in the

church parking lot as volunteers sift through boxes of donations. Behind

the church, a huge tent has been set up as another staging area for

donations. And inside, rooms and hallways have been transformed into a

massive shopping store.

The church has received so many items that it has been shipping goods to

the Adventist-run warehouse, where any non-profit involved in the relief

efforts can obtain the items.

Some officials say that managing the glut of donations - especially the

tons of clothing which have poured in -- is becoming a major problem.

"The donations of hard goods and durable goods and food have been very

valuable," noted Bob Waldrop, a member of the disaster coordination team

for Catholic Charities. "But a disaster moves fairly fast. Every day the

needs change."

He said he recently received a telephone call from someone just starting a

collection drive asking if people affected by the tornadoes needed

personal hygiene items and water.

"That was last week's list," Waldrop said.

Even so, people continue to drop off used clothing -- something that most

relief officials say is usually not wanted.

"We have definitely been trying to send the message to people not to send

any more clothes," Waldrop said. "People have come by here and tried to

drop off some clothes and we have been rerouting them to the thrift shops

in the area.

"We just don't have the people power to handle clothes and the warehouse

has enough clothes already," he said.

Culpepper, who has manned warehouses during disaster relief efforts since

1992, refers to the hodgepodge of items received during most

disasters with the acronym of "stuff." It stands for "surplus trash useless

for frantic folk."

She said the warehouse here has its fair share of "stuff."

Already in the warehouse are towels with large holes in them, mangled

Christmas wreaths, an assortment of used furniture and mattresses, and used

refrigerators that she says will take your breath away when you open the

door.

"Do people need a Christmas wreath now?" she asked. "People don't have a

home. They need things they can use right now. They need things that are

usable."

Culpepper said she thinks people are just trying to be helpful and generous

when it comes to making donations, but that they have little idea of what

is actually needed.

"I really don't think that they're just trying to dump their garbage on

us," she said. "I think they just don't know what the needs are."

She said relief organizations need to work more closely together to

provide donors with lists of specific items that are needed.

"If we learn to all come together and say, 'OK, this is what we need,' and

are specific when we ask for donations, people will give what you need.

"If you're specific, you get what you ask for," she added. "The problem is

people get on TV and say, 'We need everything.' And that's what you get."

She said the warehouse was stocked with so much food that it could last

well into the year 2000.

"People here have no reason to worry about the Y2K problem," she said of

the computer issue that has prompted fears of everything from food

shortages to power outages when the year 2000 arrives.

"They've got more than enough food to get them through that. I can assure

you of that."

Food that remains when the relief effort is finally completed will be

given to a local food bank for distribution.

Relief officials agree that the next critical need will be for building

materials, some of which are in short supply nationwide.

"It's still a little premature for building materials," Waldrop said. "But

there are a lot of people who are uninsured and almost all those people are

poor. Without some assistance, it's going to be very hard for them to

rebuild or even repair their properties."

In addition to material goods, charitable organizations are always seeing

financial contributions. Those funds can then be put back into the local

economy to help in the rebuilding and recovery effort.

Waldrop and others have suggested to donors that rather the sending clothes

or other items, they consider having a yard sale and then donating the

proceeds to the charity of their choice.

Waldrop and Culpepper say that despite concerns with some inappropriate

donations, they are heartened by the outpouring of help.

Both said the response came as no surprise.

"No, I'm not surprised at the amount of goods," Culpepper said. "What I am

excited about is the efficiency of the state and VOAD agencies working

together to have this warehouse secured so early on in the disaster."

She noted that she arrived in Oklahoma on Wednesday -- two days after the

tornadoes struck -- and the warehouse was opened on Friday.

Waldrop said he saw the same type of charitable response after the Murrah

Federal Building was bombed in 1995. He said that event transformed the

area.

"A certain bonding happens in those kinds of disasters," he said. "It

brings people together rather than driving them apart."

Culpepper said that kind of camaraderie was obvious in the response to the

tornadoes and the sharing of the donated goods.

"Everybody's working together, that is what is so awesome," she said. "It's

not 'your stuff' and 'my stuff.' It's donated goods for the people of the

disaster."

Posted May 15, 1999


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