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More than six months after May tornadoes, out-of-state volunteers continue to pour into Oklahoma

Although more than six months have passed since the storms, Oklahoma City-based nonprofits say they're still seeing a large number of out-of-state groups helping provide relief.
by Silas Allen Modified: January 17, 2014 at 8:00 pm •  Published: January 16, 2014

It hasn't been so many years since Christine Popp left Oklahoma. But based on what she's seen this week, quite a few things have changed.

Popp and her husband, now residents of Fond du Lac, Wis., lived in Harrah from 2003 to 2007.

This week, they were back in the Oklahoma City area as a part of a tornado relief volunteer group from their church in Wisconsin.

The group is a part of a steady stream of out-of-state volunteers coming into Oklahoma to offer help since the round of tornadoes last May.

Although more than six months have passed since the storms, Oklahoma City-based nonprofits say they're still seeing a large number of out-of-state groups helping provide relief.

Popp was one of eight volunteers from Memorial Baptist Church in Fond du Lac who have been working in Oklahoma this week. The group will be in Oklahoma until Saturday.

During the week, the group worked at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma's volunteer center in Oklahoma City and a food pantry in McLoud.

Popp said the group also saw the area in Moore that was affected by the May 20 tornado.

“It just kind of brought everything home,” she said.

The food bank doesn't keep records of how many volunteer groups come from out of state. But Denice Hurlbut, the food bank's volunteer coordinator, said the nonprofit has seen many more out-of-state volunteer groups coming to help since the tornado.

Most of them have said they chose to come to Oklahoma because of the tornadoes, she said.

“We always have out-of-state groups coming in, but we have a lot more this year,” she said.

Most of those volunteers have been college students who came as a part of Alternative Spring Break or Alternative Winter Break programs, Hurlbut said.

The University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Missouri have both sent groups recently, she said, and about 75 volunteers from Southern Arkansas University will be in Oklahoma next month.

Madde Hinkfuss, a senior at the University of Missouri, volunteered with Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity in December as a part of MU's Alternative Winter Break.

Hinkfuss and about 10 other volunteers finished work on a house for a Carney family who lost their home in the May 19 tornado there.

Hinkfuss, 21, painted walls, while other volunteers did jobs like hauling furniture, attaching doorknobs and cleaning.

“We just kind of did whatever they needed us to do,” she said.

Rick Lorg, volunteer coordinator for Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity, said more than six months after the tornadoes, the nonprofit is still seeing a surge in groups like the one from the University of Missouri.

Habitat for Humanity brings college volunteers to sites across the country through its Collegiate Challenge program.

Typically, the program sees a large number of out-of-state volunteers during spring break, but fewer during other times. Finding volunteers during the coldest part of the winter is often difficult, he said.

But more recently, the program has been full each week.

Student volunteers come to Oklahoma for a week and work in areas that were affected by the tornadoes, and Habitat for Humanity offers them room and board for the week, Lorg said.

“It's a good fit for them to be able to partner with us,” he said.

“It's really nice to be able to have groups that we can depend on weekly.”

by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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