Society of St. Vincent de Paul Response to Oklahoma Tornadoes
When the first round of severe weather hit Moore, Okla., and five other counties on May 20, 2013, the Society’s South Central Regional Office responded with a Rapid Response Team (RRT). The RRT is composed of trained SVdP staff and volunteers who travel to a disaster area and help coordinate operations and provide administrative support. The RRT “model” was executed for the Oklahoma tornadoes and a National Council Office staff member with extensive experience in disaster relief and recovery coordinated SVDP-OKCs plans. The plan puts a member (known as a Vincentian) on site to handle logistics such as donations, trucks, etc. At the same time, SVdP volunteers man the various Disaster Recovery Centers set up in the affected counties. These volunteers help create access for the victims to immediate social services and other resources, including communications both internal and external. The RRT is still in place and coordinating the recovery efforts for the Society’s Archdiocesan Council of Oklahoma City (SVdP-OKC).
Given that some 13,000 homes in Oklahoma were affected by tornadoes, SVdP-OKC will need ongoing financial support to continue recovery efforts. The SVDP-OKC Council has chapters (called conferences) in all the disaster zones, with the hardest hit being the conference connected to St. Andrews Catholic Church in Moore. The church sustained minor damages, but almost 90 parishioners sustained major damages to their homes. This number does not include all the families in need that the Society serves on a regular basis.
The Society’s South Central Region, assisted by Vincentians from across the country, is volunteering and supporting the Oklahoma City Council at five locations: four Disaster Recovery Centers where FEMA is located, and at All Saints Catholic Church in Norman. Vincentians are doing intake and case management to assist the families with immediate humanitarian needs, including lodging (FEMA funds do not cover hotel or motel stays in this disaster), as well as gift cards for gas, food, prescription assistance and other immediate needs. Since the start of the tornadoes, SVdP-OKC, with 20 volunteers on board daily at the various recovery centers, has seen almost 1,600 households and provided more than $50,000 in direct assistance.
In addition, the Society introduced House in a BoxÔ to the survivors in Oklahoma. Created to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, and refined during the Texas wildfires of 2011, House in a Box supplies survivors with critical items to furnish an entire home ― from the kitchen to the bathroom to the bedroom, including furniture, dishes, towels, food and clothing. All goods and furnishings are new. SVdP is coordinating the program in Oklahoma with the local Knights of Columbus, Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. While all families receive the same type of setup, the program is scalable to accommodate different families and different needs. For example, a family of six would receive more plates, dishes, towels, etc. than a family of two. Fortunately, the Society has been able to get discounts of up to 50 percent from vendors on volume purchases. To date, some 50 households and some 200 individuals in Oklahoma have participated in the program. SVdP expects to help some 1,000 households in the next six months.
During Hurricane Katrina, the Society provided some 15,000 House in a Box setups, and is getting ready to launch the program in New Jersey, New York, and other areas hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast. Many families are just now ending their stays in hotels and motels in these areas.
The destruction in Oklahoma was massive, with 41 counties now under disaster declarations. Recovery will take years and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will continue to work together to serve those who have no voice because they have lost their homes, jobs and, sadly in too many cases, loved ones.