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Local charity raises funds to aid flood, tornado victims

Michelle Boyd Waters / Red Dirt Report
Chaplain Kevin Wiessing assists a Little Axe area resident as she considers the doors The Missions has available in their warehouse on Highway 9.
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PINK, Okla. — Disaster victims arrive at the little blue warehouse off Highway 9, near Pink, on a hot Monday afternoon, just days after parts of Pottawatomie and Cleveland County received more than four inches of rain. They’re welcomed by Chaplain Kevin Wiessing with a smile and four words of advice: “Take what you want.”

The warehouse contained stacks of ceramic tile, six-panel interior doors, exterior screen doors, heating and air vents, still-packaged wood flooring planks and more building supplies. Guests included nearby residents whose homes have been damaged or destroyed by fire, flood, or tornado. While Wiessing chatted with new arrivals, America’s Disaster Relief Oklahoma Director Grace Goodenough sampled a plate of Mexican food offered in a truck just on the other side of the red dirt driveway.

The Tamales & Mexican Foods truck belonged to Jan France, the CEO of America’s Disaster Relief who setup near the warehouse on her way from Florida to Colorado.

“We’re funding this (disaster relief) off Grace’s retirement,” Wiessing said. “We’re looking for donations, and the tamale truck is helping us raise funds.”

France fed 37 people Monday evening and raised $250.

She said they are going to host a Meet and Greet at The Missions at Pink building, 30483 Highway 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 25, and another fundraiser at the distribution center from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 27.

The chaplain stated that his organization has no overhead, and that donations go directly to the community to help disaster victims recover.

“If you want to help a community, these organizations like us are the ones you want to donate to,” Wiessing said. “We have a lady who spent all of her money repairing her home, but did not have enough for things like light fixtures and counter tops. Now, she’s experienced a second disaster.”

The charity’s goal is to start banking supplies in their distribution centers for future disasters, including shovels, rakes, trash bags, masks, gloves, buckets, generators, and chainsaws.

“Oklahoma is going to have tornadoes,” Wiessing said. When disaster strikes, victims can come to the distribution center and take the supplies they need.

In some cases, though, supplies are loaned, not given.

“We are no longer giving out chainsaws and generators,” Wiessing said. “Instead, you’re borrowing them. When you’re done, you bring them back, even if they’re broken. People were selling and pawning stuff, so this lets us store the equipment for them.”

The charity also converts cash donations to gift cards. If a disaster victim comes in experiencing a loss of food because of electrical outages, he can just give them a Walmart gift card to replace the food, Wiessing said.

“This lets us focus our efforts on taking care of those people who have lost everything,” Wiessing said. He added that the gift cards can also be used to reimburse volunteers for gas money they’ve used in hauling supplies.

“We had a 16-year-old out here who hauled ice all day during a disaster,” Wiessing said. “No one offered to pay for his gas.”

Wiessing started this disaster relief distribution center in the middle of a disaster zone after the May 19, 2013 tornado. People just started dropping off supplies, he said.

“It started with tornado relief,” Wiessing said. “There were 35 houses in this neighborhood wiped out and they needed someone there to coordinate everything. We had the subdivision cleaned up in four to five weeks.”

Wiessing also met Goodenough during the same relief effort.

“When everything happened, I got a phone call to coordinate and reorganize everything,” Wiessing said. “There was no place to put everything until a firefighter from Little Axe donated his building.”

Wiessing also manages the operation from a church building that had been severely damaged two years ago. It’s now called The Missions at Pink, and is used to store some supplies and provide limited lodging for volunteers. The church includes cots for sleeping, shower, and bathroom areas, which are still under construction. Some renovations have been halted until heat and air vents can be installed in the building.

“Rural areas tend to suffer more,” Wiessing said. “There is no place for volunteers to stay or eat. People come to us for help, but no one wants to donate. Smaller charities like us are the ones who are here for the long term. We’re home-based.”

The distribution center’s expenses include $5,000 for contracts with companies such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, which provide truckloads of donations periodically during the year.

In order to qualify to receive supplies, residents must provide proof, such as a Federal Emergency Management Agency number, or other documentation showing that they have suffered damage or loss of property. Once approved, recipients can pick out what they need and take it at no charge.

“I just ask them to document what they take,” Wiessing said last week. “That way if there are ever any questions about what we’ve done with the donations, we have it all on file.”

Wiessing said he’d rather see disaster victims spend their insurance or FEMA money on things other than what he can provide for them.

“If you lose your house, as of 2013, you can only get about $20,000 from FEMA,” Goodenough said. “That number is adjusted every year, and you have to meet certain qualifications. It’s not enough to replace everything.”

“For example, if you don’t own your land, you don’t qualify for FEMA,” Wiessing said. “We have minimal paperwork for you — we do the majority of the paperwork. You just have to prove you had a disaster. Then we try to offset the costs as much as possible. We hope to grow even larger.”

Goodenough stated that America’s Disaster Relief is a legitimate nonprofit and that all donations are tax deductible.

Wiessing and Goodenough manage the Oklahoma division of America’s Disaster Relief, a non-profit organization recently hit by scandal when a former division director was accused of embezzlement and fraud. That case is still under investigation in Pottawatomie County.

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Michelle Boyd Waters
As a three-decade resident in all four quadrants of Oklahoma and descendent of pioneers from...
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