One man's story working tornado relief
After the devastating storms which blew through Oklahoma during the month of May, okPORK stepped up to feed the victims of the tornadoes and the relief volunteers. Hog farmers from across America sent support and offers to travel into the destruction to help our fellow Oklahomans. Zach White, okPORK's 2013 summer intern, discusses his experience.
In late May, devastation plagued the state of Oklahoma when high-scaled tornados bull-dozed the surrounding suburbs of Oklahoma City. As hearts grew heavy, the Oklahoma Pork Council staff sat patiently for instructions on how we could provide help to these affected areas.
The following week Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council, was given the go-ahead to organize a relief strategy that would be based from the Bethel Acres Community Center on the outskirts of Shawnee, Okla.
Once the pork community caught wind of our plan, I was truly humbled by how quickly people were willing to give up their time and volunteer. The National Pork Board sent Glen Roeser and their We Care trailer to join our effort by feeding tornado victims and other volunteers. The okPORK staff was met by numerous volunteers that included 4-H members, agricultural teachers, hog farmers, and others from surrounding areas that support the pork industry.
Mark McGinnis, outreach specialist for the Oklahoma Pork Council, was responsible for running the operation efficiently. With his leadership I was able to be a part of a group that worked vigorously to make and deliver meals over a week period. It was decided we would be cooking pork tenderloins and bratwurst and cutting them to make a sandwich.
Our group of volunteers were very well organized and quickly cooked, cut, stored, and delivered sandwiches throughout the week. Glen Roeser was truly a grill master and basically had the skills of a five-star chef when it came to grilling pork products. Our relentless attitude and his expertise on the grill made me confident that we were going to make a lot of people very happy... and full!
On our very first load Mark asked me if I would like to join him and Tina Falcon, a pork producer from the Shawnee area, to hand deliver the approximately 500 sandwiches that our group had put together. In the next few hours I came to the realization that when a tragedy takes place heart-warming and heart-breaking experiences will soon follow.
As we made our way toward the first stop, the amount of devastation overwhelmed me. Homes were flattened, cars were completely destroyed, and large trees were simply uprooted and placed on their sides. It honestly looked like a war-zone.
As we drove into a trailer park that was demolished by the mile-wide tornado, my heart sank. We quickly began to unload a large load of sandwiches to an on-site relief tent when a young girl caught the corner of Mark's eye. She was walking in the distance towards us holding a toy doll. To even the strongest of men, that very sight was a tear-jerker.
Holding back emotions, Mark gently asked from a distance if she would like a sandwich. Typical of any girl her age, she quickly broke eye contact and shied away. It became obvious that her hunger overpowered her shy-nature because she began to tiptoe her way toward us. Once we gave the young girl a sandwich and a few extra to deliver to her family, she sprinted off, looked backed and smiled without saying a word. At that moment I could not deny that the simplicity of a warm meal can bring hope to these people that had lost everything.
We continued down the dirt road of debris and ran into a volunteer group called the Samaritan's Purse. The large group was easily recognizable by their bright orange t-shirts and were scattered in large numbers across the disaster site. We handed them sandwiches and began to head back toward our car. We were caught off guard when the members asked if we would join them in a small prayer. It was such a great experience to stand in a circle with this organization, lock hands, and count our blessings. We continued to converse, but eventually parted ways to continue our volunteer work.
As we were finishing up delivering lunch for the first time, we decided to make one last stop on the way back when Mark and Tina noticed a "Road Closed" sign. When we then turned into the restricted area we saw a house that was completely destroyed and a middle-aged women picking up trash.
She pleasantly greeted us and started to explain the situation. The pile of rubble was her mother's house and is the place where she grew up. Her mother, at the time, was sleeping in the tent that she now called her new home. Our curiosity to how the mother survived without a storm shelter overcame us and we politely asked for more details.
What I tell you next is not an exaggeration. She informed us that her mother was too stubborn to leave her beloved home and pointed toward an old rusted storage container in the corner of the property. With only a flash light and a granola bar the elderly women cheated death by locking herself inside. As she continued into more details our jaws dropped. It really was a miracle, along with a showcase of wits in human survival.
In three short hours my outlook on life completely changed. Those three experiences will stay with me for the rest of my life and it would be selfish not to let our other volunteers get a similar opportunity.
For the rest of the week I stayed at the community center and became an expert at cutting pork tenderloin and sausage links. Our team of volunteers provided meals for areas all over the state of Oklahoma. When we learned there was a need in Carney, Okla., we doubled our output, packed up the Suburban and headed their way.
We did it again when Mark caught wind that the community of Little Axe, Okla., needed more supplies, and we were able to provide them with our delicious treats as well.
Volunteering with the Pork Council to aid in the tornado relief efforts was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was so blessed to have been a part of it.