Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Volunteer Moore

The volunteer experience I had in Moore, Oklahoma last week was overwhelmingly a positive and beneficial experience.  Any person who is willing and able to volunteer, should have this experience. 
“This is like a visit from Sant-y Clause,” an extremely grateful grandmother told us after we took down a tree in her front yard.  She had been in her home with no storm shelter during the May 20th tornado.  She was on her knees in the bathroom praying when a heating unit came through the roof and landed near her.  She was completely unharmed, but her roof had a large hole in it. The neighbor’s house across the street was being taken apart by a Caterpillar back hoe while we were there.
This could have been my mom and dad, I thought while picking up leaves and debris at an elderly couple’s home. My parents are a decade younger than the couple, but only live a few short miles northwest of the neighborhoods that were destroyed.

In that yard, a college student and I spend several minutes unwrapping a large wrought iron   picture frame from around a tree.  Shortly thereafter, she found a picture of a man holding a baby.  Treasure recovered. The picture was carefully placed in a Ziploc bag and delivered to the local Library.  Later on at that house, kneeling on the ground, I scooped into trash bags debris that included mostly leaves, with a random red Lego and a spool of purple thread mixed in.  The bright colors in contrast to the brown leaves look so out of place, I combed the trash for irreplaceable treasure.  I found none.

It is exhilarating to do yard work with a group of strangers.  A big part of my team consisted of college students in the ROTC program at Cameron University.  They were strong, eager and energetic.  Tearing down a fence and trees went by very quickly!  Every time a branch or portion of the fence was pulled off, there was someone there to pass it to.  Every time a pile of leaves was created by my rake, a person with a shovel and wheelbarrow seemed to magically appear to pick it up.   I wish I had these people around when I was landscaping in MY backyard!

A man dying of cancer came out into the back yard to personally thank and shake the hand of every volunteer who helped clean up his once carefully manicured yard.   
One lady told me that she had been hit by the May 3rd, 1999 tornado, so she moved a few miles away and the tornado followed her. 

You get the sense that the people of Moore Oklahoma have done this before. Everyone pitches in.  The pre-teen girls who served the volunteers lunch were kind enough to remember names and offered people seconds.

This experience restored my faith in humanity.  One of the most spectacular things was that people came from other states.  On my team alone, there were people from 5 states.  I rode in the car with a couple from Ohio, and man from Seattle.  I worked alongside nurses from Fort Worth, Texas and Lawton, Oklahoma. Two men left their families and business in Illinois, packed their chain saws and showed up to help. I met a college student from Southern California who dropped his summer classes to volunteer in Oklahoma for the summer instead.  I met a mother and her two grown children from Kansas City.

The devastation was shocking.  It was like a war zone.  The pictures on the news didn't do it justice. The thing that got to me the most was the children’s things within the rubble.  A red wagon piled on a trashed couch, with drywall and tree limbs stacked on top of it. 

The end of my day was spent in a neighborhood across from the apartments my husband lived in 5 years earlier  The houses were demolished.  The volunteers were clearing a path for the equipment that was going to be used to knock down the houses.  That was tough.  In front of one house, I saw a random serving spoon, a tube of Orajel and a toothbrush.

Here's the group that made it to the end of the day.  
I expected my volunteer experience to be lonely and emotionally taxing to say the least.  I found that I was surrounded by really cool people the whole day.  I made friends, I shared in a team experience, I got some excersize, and at the end of the day, I had a better outlook on life.  The devastation I expected to bring gloom and sadness instead brought hope and a new appreciation for strangers.  
If you have the chance, volunteer Moore!

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