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Oklahoma tornadoes: Massive number of donations creating logistical challenges for relief organizations

The Salvation Army has collected more than 400,000 excess bottles of water
by Randy Ellis Published: June 5, 2013

The generosity of Americans in response to Oklahoma's tornadoes and flooding has been overwhelming — literally.

The Salvation Army and other local relief organizations say that even though they have received millions of dollars in monetary donations, they have also received so many donated items that they don't know what they are going to do with them all.

“This particular disaster, I think we're close to 400,000 bottles of water — surplus,” said Maj. Tom Louden, the Salvation Army's emergency disaster services incident commander.

And that's just the Salvation Army. Feed The Children and many other relief organizations say they also are swimming in excess donations of bottled water.

And it's not just bottled water. Used clothing, diapers — you name it and relief agencies probably have been receiving it by the tractor-trailer load.

Churches and other drop-off sites are overflowing with donated items and looking for a place to put all the stuff so they can get their sanctuaries and other spaces back, said Jayme Shelton, public information officer for the city of Moore.

And relief organizations keep getting telephone calls saying more trucks are on the way, he said.

Many of the callers have been told to hold up on deliveries until a big enough distribution center can be found to manage it all, Shelton said. Officials are looking for such a site now, he said.

In the meantime, relief organizations and city officials say they have requests they would like to make of both donors and storm victims.

“As a leader of an organization, it's really hard for me to say, ‘Just give cash,' but that's really what's needed,” Louden said.

Otherwise, the charities end up having to use a lot of their volunteer and financial resources sorting and storing items, he said.

“Every pamper and every penny is going to go to the victims of the May 19, 20 and now May 31 tornadoes, floods and disasters,” Louden pledged, but he said it is going to be a challenge.

Storm victims can use cash donations to purchase items they need, when they need them, he said. They will need various items and services over a period of years, not just days, he said.

And disaster victims need to learn to do something they are not used to doing — ask for and accept help, Shelton said.

Shelton said most of the people in the tornado and flood-damaged areas are hardworking, independent people who are used to helping others, but not used to accepting help or social services.

While those are noble traits, the best thing they can do for everyone now is accept help that's offered, he said.

By the numbers

Donors have also provided millions of dollars in monetary contributions to charitable organizations.

United Way of Central Oklahoma has received about $10.5 million in contributions, including more than $6.5 million raised through last week's “Healing in the Heartland: Relief Benefit Concert” hosted by Blake Shelton and NBC.

United Way also is administering the governor's OKStrong Disaster Relief Fund, which has received about $2 million to date and plans to use the money for the long-term needs of storm victims, including health care and mental health needs.

The American Red Cross has received about $18 million in donations and pledges for Oklahoma storm relief, said Ken Garcia, spokesman for the agency.

The organization has provided people displaced by the storm with more than 4,000 overnight stays at shelters, more than 94,000 meals and more than 162,000 snacks.

Salvation Army donors have given more than $5.8 million online to Oklahoma tornado relief efforts.

The organization already has provided about $600,000 in direct assistance, Louden said.

Since May 19, the charity has provided more than 44,000 meals, 62,000 drinks, and 54,000 snacks.

The Oklahoma City Community Foundation has been administering three funds involved in storm relief, including the Shelter Oklahoma Schools Fund, a charitable fund formed for the purpose of funding storm shelters for schools.

The fund already has received numerous gifts including a $500,000 gift and additional $500,000 matching gift offer from Apache Corp., a $100,000 gift from Norman Chrysler Jeep Dodge and a $350,000 gift from the Mercury One Foundation.

The Oklahoma City Community Foundation also operates the Community Emergency Fund, where donors can make gifts to meet immediate needs of storm victims, and the Tornado Recovery Fund, originally formed in response to the 1999 tornado that hit Moore and surrounding cities.

The intent of the latter fund is to provide assistance with intermediate and long-term recovery efforts.

Catholic Charities, another organization, has received more than $430,000 through its online portal and already has assisted more than 1,300 families and handed out $185,520 in immediate assistance, mostly in the form of gift cards.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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How to get help

Where victims can start to get help

The best place for storm victims to go to start receiving assistance is one of the five multiagency resource centers that have been established. They are located at:

• Carney High School, 304 S Carney Rd., Carney.

• Gordon Cooper Technology Center (Skylabs 1 & 2), 1 John C Bruton Blvd., Shawnee.

• Little Axe School, 2000 168th Ave. NE, Norman.

• Westmoore High School, 12613 S Western Ave., Moore.

• Jenks Simmons Field House, 211 N Country Club Rd., El Reno.


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