Seeing images of a violent tornado bearing down on the city of Moore, Okla., brought back memories for Becky Cohen.
She has lived in Parker for more than 14 years now, but spent the first part of her life in Edmond, another suburb of Oklahoma City. It was a helpless feeling as she watched the drama unfold on television, and when the extent of the damage became clear, Cohen and her family readied themselves for a trip to help the victims.
She announced her intentions on Facebook, today’s chosen platform for grassroots disaster relief efforts, and received an overwhelming response. With the help of a few friends, Cohen began soliciting donations of supplies. Among the most helpful was the temporary use of a trailer from Parker Trailers.
The amount of supplies coming in — everything from toothbrushes and twine to duct tape and trash bags — filled the trailer so quickly that Cohen began asking for gift cards.
“It got to the point where I got a little freaked out,” she said. “There were so many businesses donating and I was thinking, ‘My car can’t pull anything bigger.’”
By the time they departed for Oklahoma roughly a week after the storm, Cohen, along with her husband, Bob, and kids Austin and Ashley, were towing roughly $3,500 worth of donated goods, including $1,500 in gift cards, to Moore. Some supplies came from businesses and the rest came from churches and private donors.
The Cohens began seeing the damage when they entered Shawnee, although it was scattered; demolished homes would be a short distance from those that were left unscathed.
Through their cleanup efforts at a mobile home park, where two people were killed, Cohen made connections with people she didn’t know. The work was not so much physically taxing as it was emotionally draining. While she was tearing apart what was left of a trailer, a little girl came up and told Cohen that it used to be her house.
Austin and Ashley Cohen helped load and unload the trailer and organized the donations, while also clearing debris. Many of those affected by the EF-5 tornado were living in tents, but their spirit was not broken. Many were uplifted by the kindness of strangers.
“They would come up and shake our hands and say thank you,” Cohen says. “It was really sweet.”
The Cohen family was staying with friends during the four-day trip and took shelter in a fortified garage storm shelter when another round of tornadoes passed over Oklahoma City, killing 20 people and injuring many more.
The Cohens were planning to bring a youth group back to Oklahoma in July, but the air conditioning in the transport bus broke, and the group refocused its mission to helping Colorado wildfire victims.
Cohen, the director of Campus Life at Chaparral High School, deflects any credit for the tornado relief effort and insists that it was the donors who made the difference. But one of those donors, Loren Drake, the owner of real estate solution firm Havyn LLC, said Cohen was the one who pulled all of the resources into one concentrated project.
“To take the time to do this and for her to make the trip, the least we could do was partially fill the trailer,” said Drake, whose wife learned about the relief campaign on Facebook.
Donors to tornado relief effort
• Parker Trailers
• Providence Presbyterian Church of Parker
• Kentwood Real Estate
• Blue Ridge Innovative Healthcare
• Sky Ridge Medical Center
• Martin & Harman Family Dentistry
• Individual donors