Faith groups have spread out in force to help Oklahomans attempting to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of deadly tornadoes around the state.
Nowhere is that disaster relief effort more visible than the Oklahoma City metro area.
For years, Oklahomans have joked that there is a house of worship on every corner in communities across Oklahoma. In recent days, it appears that storm victims have found faith groups on every corner in places like Moore — ready to serve.
Leaders of disaster response teams and efforts from various Christian denominations have said the ecumenical cooperation has been inspirational.
“All the churches, it doesn't matter what denomination they are, they are in it,” Sam Porter, director of Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief, said. “That's good to see. It's just super good.”
Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, said his agency is pleased to join forces with other organizations to see that storm victims receive much-needed aid.
“We love Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. We love the Red Cross. We love the Salvation Army,” Raglow said. “Catholic Charities is a partner with so many.”
Neils Ludlow, a disaster relief coordinator for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shared similar sentiments.
He said volunteers from his faith community, as well as those from other Christian faith organizations, are providing aid to show tornado victims the love of Christ through their actions.
“People need help and most people in this situation don't have the funds to do it. Many are so distressed, they don't know what to do,” Ludlow said.
“When we show up or another organization shows up, it gives them a breath of fresh air — it gives them hope.”
Porter said cooperative efforts began almost immediately following the tornadoes that ravaged areas including Edmond, Shawnee, Carney and Bethel Acres on May 19. He said Oklahoma Baptist University and St. Gregory's University, a Roman Catholic institution, joined forces with Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief to house volunteers in the schools' dormitories.
Porter said the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped pay for some of the food that Baptists prepared at their feeding unit set up in the parking lot of First Baptist Church of Moore. The Baptists prepare meals that are distributed by the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.
Joint projects between groups of different faiths also are underway.
Edie Roodman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, said the Jewish Federations of North America has joined with Catholic Charities to manage a distribution site for supplies in Norman.
“The focus now is on helping the victims of the tornado begin to rebuild their lives immediately, through the distribution of gift cards to purchase necessities, clean up efforts of both neighborhoods and public spaces and coordinating volunteers with several different entities,” she said.
Roodman said the federation hopes eventually to partner with other organizations to build playgrounds at the Moore elementary schools destroyed in the May 20 tornado, among other things. She said repair and renewal are fundamental elements of Jewish tradition so the projects to rebuild the storm damaged areas fits within the federation's mission.
Numerous faith organizations are offering immediate assistance, particularly debris cleanup and tree removal and emergency food and supplies distribution.
Karen Karner, a disaster response coordinator at St. John's Lutheran Church, 1032 NW 12 in Moore, said the church has become a distribution center for tornado victims in the area. She said the church has free bottled water, toiletries, diapers and other necessities for affected families. Karner said the center is open from noon to 8 p.m. each day.
“People have been incredibly generous. The outpouring of love and support has been phenomenal,” she said.
Ludlow, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' disaster relief command center, 505 N Santa Fe in Moore, said the Mormon relief effort is focused on immediate aid to affected residents. He said about 2,800 Mormon volunteers converged on Moore and the other affected areas to offer assistance over the Memorial Day weekend. Ludlow said fliers have been distributed throughout the communities so that residents know that help is available.
He said the command center is filled with wheelbarrows, ice fishing sleds for debris removal, food boxes for a family of four, hygiene kits, trash bags, cleaning kits, sleeping bags, cots, bottled water and diapers. Ludlow said command center volunteers also have generators to lend to people who need them.
Meanwhile, Raglow with Catholic Charities, said his agency plans to walk alongside tornado victims in the weeks and months to come. He said Catholic Charities is providing immediate help but the long-term assistance also is critical. For example, he said the organization continues to work with several victims of the 2012 Luther wildfires and the agency's case workers also continue to work with victims of the Woodward tornado of April 2012.
“Our caseworkers will walk people through the process of recovery,” Raglow said.
He said case workers generally connect with disaster victims several weeks after the crisis to find out if their needs and situations have changed in any way. He said some people will find that they may have lost their employment as well as their vehicle because of the storm or perhaps they have people staying with them due to the disaster.
“Their journeys are going to be different,” he said.
Raglow said victims' needs will change over time and that is why the faith community's tremendous response is important.
“We are part of the mosaic that's out there,” he said.
“We will be there for the time that it takes to get people on their feet.”