On May 20, an EF5 tornado struck Moore, Okla. At its peak, the tornado spanned more than one mile wide and reached winds of 210 miles per hour. The disastrous storm claimed the lives of 23 people and injured 400 others, leaving approximately $2 billion worth of damages in its wake.
To provide much-needed food and supplies for storm victims, Project GIFT organized a disaster relief collection at Southwire’s Employee Learning Center (ELC) in Carrollton, Ga. Throughout the drive on May 23 and 24, Blackshirt volunteers gathered and sorted donations from residents in the west Georgia area, including food, water, cleaning supplies, paper products, toiletries and pet food.
The goal was to fill two trucks with supplies, and after two days of collecting, the disaster relief donation drive yielded five truckloads of useful items. According to Krystle Thompson, Project GIFT coordinator, the most trucks ever sent before the Oklahoma event was three.
“Each disaster relief collection and distribution has been different based on the storm’s severity, the extent of destruction and the way that Project GIFT is able to help,” said Thompson. “I was overwhelmed by the generosity of people in the west Georgia area. Each tractor trailer that we filled and added to our total shocked me. I never dreamed that we’d take five truckloads!”
A group of eight Blackshirts volunteered from the west Georgia area and Forte, travelling to the Oklahoma City area on May 27. After reaching out to facilities in the greater Southwire area for their assistance and participation, several employees throughout the company donated money or supplies. Southwire’s plants in Kentucky, Coffeyville and Mineral Wells, along with the Dallas Customer Service Center (CSC), sent employees to Oklahoma.
Through a connection with Southwire’s Energy Division, Project GIFT partnered with Antioch Christian Church in Oklahoma City, which is roughly 11 miles away from Moore. On Tuesday, May 28, more than 100 volunteers from Southwire, the church and the community gathered to help unload the trucks and distribute supplies. Tuesday’s distribution began in the morning and continued into the afternoon, but not as many people visited as Thompson had hoped.
“We noticed that things were going slowly and realized that it was due to many victims losing their homes and vehicles,” said Thompson. “We loaded trucks, vans and U-Hauls and went out into the communities to distribute supplies.”
As Project GIFT adapted to the circumstances, Blackshirts and other volunteers connected with tornado victims and came to terms with the surrounding damage. David Lopez, senior buyer at Southwire’s Coffeyville Plant, was born and raised in Moore. Seeing his hometown destroyed filled Lopez with mixed emotions.
“It really hit home with me,” said Lopez. “I wanted to give back to the community that raised me. If it wasn’t for Moore, I wouldn’t be who I am today. It’s so surreal. You can’t imagine it happening, but you’re looking at it. You’re happy that loved ones are safe and frustrated at the whole event; the amount of devastation and loss is overwhelming.”
Despite the damage and destruction, Lopez was inspired by the community’s willingness to help.
“One of the most touching things was seeing the amount of support from everyone,” said Lopez. “Everyone – kids, parents and grandparents – had come to help. The community rallied around itself, and the nation rallied around that community. It was amazing to see the amount of support and help that came in a short period of time. The amount of supplies that Project GIFT collected should be a benchmark for the Blackshirts. Filling five semi-trucks is a phenomenal task, and it was awesome seeing those supplies go to the community that I grew up in.”
Aaron Asher, regional service director for the southwest region, often visits Oklahoma because of his job. Because of his relationship with customers in the area and relative proximity, Asher joined the distribution efforts, marking his first Project GIFT event.
“You see the damage on the news, and I’ve read articles about Project GIFT,” said Asher “You can’t imagine it until you see the devastation in Moore and the impact Southwire can have. It is incredibly humbling to be part of something that affects so many people.”
Asher brought his wife and two youngest children, hoping to show them what Southwire does and demonstrate the important role that they can have in helping others.
“Watching my children and other children handing out supplies and realizing the impact they can have was a powerful experience,” said Asher. “From an employee perspective, I was taken aback by the range of employees from all over the country and from different departments of Southwire coming together as a team in a matter of minutes. Employees, spouses and their children all came together with the local residents, as if we’d been a team for years. It had a huge impact.”
After the distribution, Project GIFT donated all of the remaining supplies to the church, so they could continue giving supplies to Moore’s tornado victims.
– Krystle Thompson