Don Barone calls a fishing pole the magic wand of childhood.
Two years ago, the fishing writer for Bassmaster.com was visiting with a young boy in Cullman, Ala., whose home had been recently destroyed by an F4 tornado. The boy had just found his fishing pole in pieces.
“He got real emotional and said he wouldn't be able to fish anymore,” Barone said. “I told him not to worry, that we would get him fishing tackle. Frankly, I had no idea how we were going to do that.”
Barone, a former producer for ESPN's Outside the Lines, then returned to his RV and cried.
That is the moment that the Tackle the Storm Foundation essentially was born. Three months later, Barone officially founded the charity.
He then returned to Cullman with other pro anglers from the Bassmaster Tour and distributed free fishing rods to the children who had lost their magic wands of childhood in that terrible twister.
Tackle the Storm did the same for the children of Joplin, Mo., following the F5 tornado that flattened the city in May 2011.
Recently, Tackle the Storm also provided free fishing equipment for the students of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and the survivors of the school shooting were treated to a day of fishing at a nearby lake.
Now, Tackle the Foundation wants to help the children of central Oklahoma whose lives have been uprooted by May's deadly tornadoes.
On Saturday, in conjunction with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Moore Parks and Recreation Department, Tackle the Storm Foundation will provide free fishing gear to young tornado victims at the Kids Fishing Derby in Moore.
“My goal is to put every child who got hit by the tornado and lost their fishing stuff back on the water,” Barone said.
Since Tackle the Storm Foundation was founded, it has received financial donations from all over the world. Bassmaster Elite Series anglers have been generous as well with their time and money.
“It's not hard to rustle up support from anglers,” he said.
Last Christmas, 70 bass fishing pros provided autograph jerseys that Tackle the Storm auctioned on eBay for the charity.
“We raised a ton of money that way,” Barone said.
Many manufacturers also have donated to the cause, and the charity buys fishing equipment at discounted prices.
Even if a victim can't attend Saturday's fishing event at the Buck Thomas Park Pond in Moore, Barone still pledges to help.
He urges anyone who knows of a child whose home was destroyed in the twisters that hit Oklahoma this spring to contact his foundation at www.tacklethestormfoundation.org.
“Our biggest trouble is finding them,” he said
Barone said a “knucklehead reporter” once asked him if he really thought that he could change a kid's life by giving away a rod and reel.
“I told him that I don't know if I can change the kid's life, but I can damn sure change his day.”
For more information on the Kids Fishing Derby and the Tackle the Storm event on Saturday morning in Moore, visit www.cityofmoore.com/moore-fishing-derby. Registration is required to attend.
Or, call Gene Gilliland of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation at 317-9488.