Kansas Tornado Relief, a nonprofit organization composed of several Wichita churches, is aiding in the recovery of Moore, Okla., which was devastated by an EF-5 tornado Monday.
A group of volunteers from the organization, led by Terry Johnson, executive pastor at GracePoint Church, drove to Moore on Wednesday. They brought with them a 26-foot truck containing an estimated $15,000 in supplies and $5,000 in monetary donations to Moore – all donated by Wichitans.
For the volunteers, the goal is simple:
“We’re trying to bring all the resources to the people. We want to make sure the people of Moore know that the people of Wichita care for them, and we’re neighbors,” Johnson said.
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They took the items to what will soon become a distribution center near the destruction, the vacant building of what was formerly Trinity Church of God in Moore. The church was already vacant pre-storm.
They are partnering with several churches in Moore to come up with short- and long-term planning for recovery, which will stretch on for months and even years.
“We’re doing an initial assessment of what our teams can come down and do,” Johnson said. “Then we will be able to send teams here in the next couple of weeks from different churches that are a part of Kansas Tornado Relief and get people an opportunity to come down and serve with a group of people from Wichita.”
Kansas Tornado Relief was formed after the April 14, 2012, tornado in Oaklawn. It was originally the disaster relief branch of GracePoint Church.
“We knew we didn’t just want to be one church,” Johnson said.
“We knew people wanted to give and wanted to help and sometimes the name of a church might discourage people, so we wanted to make a broad name – Kansas Tornado Relief – so more people would volunteer and give and not feel like it’s with one specific church, but we are a faith-based organization.”
Jana Hildebrandt, who’s part of outreach ministry at FirstMB Church in Wichita – a part of Kansas Tornado Relief – said that some churches have a knack for different kinds of response after disaster and that they can accomplish more as a network.
“Our church has a real heart for serving others, and the Mennonite history includes a lot of responses to disasters,” she said. “So it’s just kind of a part of our DNA.
“We’re good at demo and other churches are really good at rebuilding. Some have all the local connections and resources and other churches call and say they just want to give. So we felt why not just put together a team from the faith based community of Wichita?”
The community of Moore is still in a state of shock, Johnson said, but many organizations are rallying around them to help them recover. He said he’s glad to be a part of it.
“This serves some very physical needs, and I can show the love of Christ through physical acts of kindness and not just preaching,” he said.
Hildebrandt says she still stays in contact with a teacher from Joplin, Mo., that she helped in 2011. The teacher sent her a text message on Wednesday – the two-year anniversary of the Joplin tornado – that she still appreciates the people that came to help
“She didn’t have hope initially, but because people came in to help she was able to find hope,” Hildebrandt said. “That’s what we want. We want to give people hope.”
Needs in Moore
Johnson said that although donations of supplies are helpful, the most important thing that Wichitans can do is give financially.
“They’re going to be waterlogged within the first 72 hours,” he said, referring to all the bottled water donations. “They’re going to have every Band-Aid they need, every first aid thing they need, every toiletry item they need.
“One thing they’re going to do is have to spend extra money on food and the basic necessities, and that adds up really quick.”
Johnson said that if people aren’t comfortable giving cash, they can also give Visa gift cards.
“It goes a lot further than a bottle of water because that can meet needs that we’re not assuming,” he said. “People could have specific needs we don’t know about but with a $50 Visa gift card, they can get whatever they need on their terms.”
For more information or to sign up to volunteer, visit www.kansastornadorelief.com.