Cassadee Pope has more personal experience with hurricane season than tornado season, but she has a special place in her heart for Oklahoma.
After all, the singer-songwriter won Season 3 of the hit reality TV show “The Voice” under the tutelage of celebrity coach Blake Shelton, an Ada native.
Last week, Pope was set to visit a couple of Oklahoma City stations on her fast-paced radio tour. Instead, she spent Thursday morning sorting hygiene items alongside other Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma volunteers at the First Baptist Church in Moore.
Like so many others worldwide, the Florida native was first horror-struck and then moved to act after an EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, Newcastle and south Oklahoma City a week ago.
“It was amazing just seeing the way everybody came together to organize the rooms and make sure everything got there in good shape. It was great to see,” said Pope, adding she did a couple of local radio interviews by phone in between unloading and organizing donations.
“It was really incredible to be able to actually help firsthand. You know, it's amazing that people are donating, but it's such a different experience being there in person and actually helping out. So I'm glad I got to do it.”
Influx of giving
Pope, 23, connected with the Regional Food Bank through her record label, Republic Nashville, which has a partnership with Outnumber Hunger and General Mills. Through those ties, she also arranged a donation of two semi truckloads of General Mills products to the food bank, which is the largest private hunger-relief organization in Oklahoma.
“It was great working with her. It's inspiring to have someone outside of the community come out and just want to help so much,” said Angie Gaines, the Regional Food Bank's marketing director.
“She wanted to go out and make a difference and help the community. And she's just so humble and such a nice person.”
Gaines said the food bank has received a massive influx of donations, volunteers and volunteer requests since the May 19-20 tornadoes devastated Moore, Shawnee and other communities. Hundreds of Oklahomans as well as local and national organizations have reached out to the nonprofit, which distributes food and supplies to those in need through its links to more than 1,000 partner agencies, including the First Baptist Church of Moore.
“People definitely want to help their neighbors in need, whether it's to donate or come out and volunteer,” Gaines said.
Although she was only in the Oklahoma City area for a few hours, Pope said she rode through some of the tornado-ravaged parts of Moore.
“It was horrifying. ... We saw some neighborhoods that were completely leveled and then a few feet away there were houses that looked like they weren't even touched. It was just really freaky to see that. People were still outside looking for things in the rubble. It was really difficult to see, but it made me even more thankful that I could go and help,” Pope said by phone en route to Will Rogers World Airport, where she was flying out that same day to Houston.
“I have never been around the recuperation of this kind of natural disaster, but I'm from Florida and I have experienced hurricanes. So I know what it's like to prepare for a storm,” she added. “I know how scary it is to know that there's a possibility that you could lose your home and that you just have to hold on for dear life and put up the shutters and hope the storm misses you somehow. It's a horrible feeling — and it's nothing compared to what they went through here.”
Connecting to Oklahoma
Because of her time on “The Voice,” Pope feels a special connection to Oklahoma. Although she auditioned as a pop-rock artist, she chose Shelton as a her coach, and through working with him and his country star wife Miranda Lambert, Pope emerged at the end of the competition a contemporary country singer — and the show's winner.
“It's more sentimental knowing that Blake and Miranda are from here,” Pope said, adding she texted the couple after the tornadoes hit to ensure they were unharmed.
“There's a connection between me and them and Oklahoma. So I did feel it in my heart that it was my job to help out in some way, especially 'cause Blake did everything he could to get me where I am now. So the least I can do while I'm in his home state is to help out in this crazy time.”
She said her debut album as “The Voice” — a contemporary country collection — is about 75 percent finished and due out in the fall. Her radio tour, which consists solely of country music stations, is wrapping up as she prepares to hit the road with Rascal Flatts and The Band Perry. That tour will bring her back to Oklahoma for an August show at Tulsa's BOK Center.
“It feels good. I mean, I feel like I'm being embraced in the country world. On the show, I slowly progressed in that direction, and I think everybody saw that that's really where my comfort zone was. And after I got into the swing of things, that's where it made the most sense for me to go,” she said.
“I hope the next time I come through (Oklahoma), I can spend some more time here and really get to know everybody 'cause it seems like an amazing community.”
After spending time with Shelton on the show, she wasn't surprised to hear that the Tishomingo resident was organizing a tornado benefit concert that will be televised on NBC. Pope definitely plans to tune in to the fundraising concert, which is set for Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena and features Shelton, along with other music superstars.
“I am excited to watch. It's really amazing that he's doing that,” Pope said. “I'm not surprised. With him, it's always been the classy way. It's great, like the country community comes together, and it's such a close-knit family that whenever anybody like Blake ... needs a favor and asks someone like Reba to do it, she'll come through, which is such an amazing thing.”