You guys may have heard about the wildfires that swept through much of Eastern and Central Oklahoma earlier this month. Over 525 homes and 90,000 acres were burned as a result of a deadly trifecta of extreme heat, extreme drought and gusty winds. When I found out that Samaritan’s Purse had set up a mobile response unit in one of the hardest hit areas, I drove up with my family to check it out.
In a little town called Olive (the address is actually Drumright, OK) the First Baptist Church has allowed Samaritan’s Purse Ministries to set up their mobile unit and it’s a perfect relationship. Since First Baptist Olive is a distribution center, families come in for diapers, food, and supplies, and are able to submit a work order to Samaritan’s Purse at the same time.
Creek County, where the church is located, was hit so hard with 415 houses destroyed – in most cases completely leveled within minutes of the owners evacuating. At one homesite the owners lost all their chickens because they didn’t have time to even open the gates and turn them loose. At another homesite we saw the two dogs who escaped and came back to the home, living in the woods that were left after the fire.
In order to begin rebuilding, the old home sites must be cleaned up. That’s where Samaritan’s Purse comes in. They clear the space where the home goes leaving a clean pad in it’s place. And piles that represent the totally of a life’s memories and items. One pile is all the metal that can be taken to a metal yard, the check left for the owners to recover and help financially. One pile is all the leftover ash and rubble after volunteers sift and sort through everything.
When we got there the volunteer team was just finishing one job site and getting ready to begin another job. Homeowners fill out a form asking for help with specific things, usually related to clearing the debris and rubble from an old home site. Chaplains are available each day to minister to not only the homeowners, but to the volunteers as well. I can testify that being present in this space takes an emotional toll. (Click to Tweet)
When we went to the new homesite it was amazing to see how appreciative they were. And how caring the volunteer team was. Walking through the property with them and listening to their stories. “Over here I had a collection of angels that my aunt gave me. And here is where we kept the toys for my grandkids.” Hearing their stories was truly amazing.
Seeing the property that hadn’t been worked on yet really hit me hard. The floor frame was visible and bits of the roof, siding, destroyed appliances, and even personal items buried in ashes and melted aluminum drippings.
The team of volunteers will sift through all the rubble, search for any belongings that can be recovered or even returned. Craftsman tools, for example, have a lifetime warranty so unusably burned tools can be traded for new ones if the team recovers them. Masks, gloves, and other safety items are given to each volunteer and they pray as a team before the real work begins.
Todd, the project manager, estimates this homesite will take two days to completely clean up. The owners have a new trailer ready to drop as soon as the site is prepared and that will make all the difference in how they’ll be able to begin rebuilding. Replanting. Reuniting with their pets that are staying at shelters in Tulsa and they haven’t seen in two weeks.
If you are able, consider coming out to Drumright, Oklahoma to volunteer. Bring gloves, work clothes, and sturdy workboots and Samaritan’s Purse will provide the training, tools, and equipment needed. You can call Todd at the Oklahoma location at 205-451-5037 and find out if they still have work projects going on, and be sure to register through the Samaritan’s Purse volunteer network to be notified of future opportunities to serve. Half-day and full-day shifts are available and they need hands!
If you head down there take some of the items that Olive First Baptist said they need in their distribution center too: underwear and sock packages, OTC medications (ibuprofen was top of the list), trashbags, cleaning supplies and soap, indoor and outdoor trashcans, pillows, bedding, and hand tools like hammers, wrenches, etc.
Showing my children how in the wake of something devasting and scary, people come together to help out, clean up, and pitch in was a blessing. Showing them why it’s important to help others when they are need. Showing them that even if something bad happens, there are good people out there who will help was important to me as a parent.