Friday, May 24, 2013

My hands were your hands

I have lived so far away from most of my family and childhood friends for so long that part me had taken it for granted the amazing support system I have.  I really hit me this week how immensely important my friends and family are, and how willing they are to help me.

I know people can give lots of ways to help tornado victims, and no doubt programs like the Red Cross, World Vision and many others are doing an amazing job getting money and supplies to the hardest hit locations in Shawnee, Carney and Moore Oklahoma.   But I wanted to directly help.  So I reached out to my support system.  I asked them to trust me by wiring money directly to my account via paypal so I could purchase supplies.  I asked them to do so in the next two days.  I asked as many as I could and hoped a few would reply.   Whats nice about my plan is that dollar for dollar I was able to put it toward needed supplies and I was able to do it fast and get it to the tornado site fast.  This quick turn around is critical in times like this when immediate help is necessary. 

The money started to trickle in.  Then faster, and then even more came, and wow it just kept coming.  Chirp went my phone over and over, "You received $$$ from someone".   I kept a running total... and it just kept adding up.  I kept sending my mom messages with the new totals, always blown away by how generous everyone has been!  48 hours after my initial plea I had $720 to spend!  WOWSERS!    When I starting looking at the donations, I realized people had sent me money from 8 different states!  Shout out to Missouri, Texas, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, California, Washington, and of course PENNSYLVANIA! 


I immediately called around to see if the local stores had enough diapers in stock only to find supplies were limited.  Thankfully I just started a free month of amazon prime so I was able to get free 2 day delivery.  I made a huge order online on Tuesday so it would arrive by Thursday.  I spent $350 which gave me 1,384 diapers and 2,496 wipes.   That's a lot of clean butts we can help out with.  


 Next stop was the local walmart, which by Wednesday had been able to restock a lot of the needed supplies.  Since I am 30 miles from Carney and 60 miles from Moore I have the advantage of being close enough to help easily but not so close that supplies or roads were unavailable.  I used an updated list that was sent out from Carney to get specific supplies that were needed in the area.  My friend Rachel helped me pick out items and track our spending.  We foolishly started with only one cart, quickly filling it and moving on to fill a second!  What was funny is twice we thought we were done only to get another message about another donation so we kept piling on the supplies!   Then again after I had checked out and loaded the jeep I got a last minute donation and ran back inside to spend even more! 

We purchased another $450+ in supplies with some help in donations Rachel provided as well!
Including:
10 plastic totes/bins
heavy garbage bags
and entire bin full of baby food
bottles/sippy cups
children's bowls and utensils
nuks/pacificers
a LOT of individual wrapped snacks 
medicine
sunblock
laundry detergent 
dryer sheets 
toilet paper

Partly, I was surprised how quickly I spent the money but when you buy the jumbo packages in multiples in tends to go fast.  I was no less impressed with the booty I was able to pack up.  It was a ton of good stuff.  Between the diapers and supplies I filled my jeep TWICE.  

On Thursday and Friday I helped pass all the this stuff along to my friend (and Badge Wife!) Tawni, who was loading an entire trailer full of stuff to take to Carney.  Rain delays meant she will travel down tonight (Friday) to start helping with relief efforts.  We decided to send this stuff to Carney (only 30 miles from me) because this area has received a little less help than Moore.  Moore has much more damage but has also received a lot more national news so the help is also more available.  

As for the next steps, there is a lot of clean up to do.  This weekend I am holding down the home front by providing child care so others can head to Carney and Moore to aid in clean up and organization.  But the needs are still here.  Specifically I have been asked for gift cards to purchase fuel (for tractors, chain saws and other equipment), sock and shoes, and even more plastic containers.  People are trying to salvage things from damaged homes and need safe, dry places to store items they want to keep.  If you want to help me continue to get items to Carney or Moore please use PayPal ( https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/send-money-online ) to send me instant money. There are NO FEES if you use your bank account or PayPal balance. This is also a secure way to send money, without sharing your banking information.
Use my email address: andrea.skimbo@okstate.edu

What I have noticed is that everyone here is doing their part.  No one is shrugging this off, everyone is finding some way to contribute.  But that's part of Oklahoma culture, to help your neighbor.  I am sure I will be involved with helping in some way or another for a long time.  I hope to go visit the tornado sites at some point to help with clean up or rebuilding.  This effort will not stop after the news coverage does, we will be rebuilding for a long time. 

What really blows me away is that my friends and family that sent money to help aren't from Oklahoma.  They are all hundreds and hundreds of miles away but they are still willing to do their part to help.  In prayers, in donations, and in love.   I know lots of you have told me that you are proud of me, and thank you for saying that but really I am proud of you guys.  It sort of went without saying that I would help people so close to me but your gifts were not expected.  It means a lot then when I asked, you were there for me when it mattered most.  I was able to count on your support and it IS making a difference.  Thank you to all those who trusted me to send money, it was well spent.  

As I said in my picture on facebook "Today I was your hands.  Today, your heart was with my heart".  I couldn't have done what I did without your help, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  My support system is awesome.  I hope you all realize how much of a blessing it is for me to have you in my life.  When I tell this story of how I received so much, so quickly people keep asking "How did you do that?".  My answer is easy - I have a lot of people who love me and want to help me.  I have people who know God teaches to have a giving heart.  I have family who trust me, I have friends who support me.  I am not a lucky girl - I am a blessed girl! 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

60 short miles

May 20, 2013 will be a day remembered in Oklahoma for a long, long time.  I know for me, yesterday made a permanent mark on my heart.  Here in Stillwater, we were about an hour away from the large tornado that tore through Moore, OK.  I was in my office at Oklahoma State University helplessly watching the news as a mile wide tornado devastated my state. 

Do you know what you do as a tornado destroys everything in its path 60 miles from you?  You pray.  That's about all you can do.  Because 60 miles away means the skies in Stillwater are clear, even sunny.  The horizon is quiet.  A few rain storms and dark clouds came through and I watched the weather report carefully, but my town was in the clear.  My home stayed put.  My family stayed safe.  My car remained untouched and my roads home were clear.  But 60 miles away was a very different story. 

I have lived in Oklahoma since July of 2006, so I have now experienced 6 tornado seasons.  Each with their own warnings, passing storms and damage.  I have run for cover when the sirens have gone off in Stillwater.  I have hid in my closet several times waiting for the storm to pass.  I have packed emergency kits, and worried about stock piling supplies.  I have called my mom many times to express concern over the looming storms approaching.  Two years ago around this time we had a small tornado in my own yard, thankfully only damaging several trees including a 40 ft tree that was torn up by it's roots and laid down along side my home.  I was 20 weeks pregnant at the time and terrified.  I remember crying in the closet because my swollen feet wouldn't fit into my shoes.  But the damage was minimal, life carried on.  Branches were quickly cleaned up, stumps were removed and all evidence of our close call disappeared.  I mostly forgot how quickly things can change, how fast it can go very, very bad and how small you really are in the eye of a tornado. 

Picture taken at our home in May 2011 of tree pulled up by tornado.
Do you recall the feelings of invincibility everyone has at some point in their life?  Perhaps it was something small like skipping a flu shot because you wouldn't get sick this year.  Or taking a chance walking home in the dark one night.  Maybe you speed on the highway because the cop wouldn't spot you.  Perhaps you spent hours in tanning beds as a college student because the danger of skin cancer couldn't touch you.  Or you got into a car with a friend who had a couple drinks because they were fine to drive.  I know there have been times for us all that we felt the bad things couldn't reach us, the chances were in our favor, the risk wouldn't hurt us.  Thats how most Oklahomans feel during tornado season.

But then yesterday happened.  And something changed for me.  Perhaps it was the fact that I am a mommy now.  Perhaps it was the massive damage and dozens of lives lost.  Maybe it was the children who were killed in their elementary school.  It could have been the heartbreaking news coverage of loss.  It suddenly felt like 60 miles away was nothing at all.  That could have been my daughter swept away from  her school.  That could have been my home reduced to wood pieces and trash.  That could have been my family searching desperately for each other.  My invincibility is now gone.  My fear of facing a tornado is real.  I no longer feel like this couldn't happen to me.  Because 60 short miles away it did happen.  I will never be able to dismiss another tornado watch.  I will never be able to leave Reagan at her school while we ride out a storm.  I will never be able to walk away from a weather report with dangerous predictions without worry and fear.  Even today people reminded me, Stillwater has only had one death due to a tornado.  I don't care, 60 miles away that isn't the case.  I am now afraid, for myself and for those already effected.  Tornado season hasn't passed us yet, and even when it does May comes around each year with all new dangers.  I now feel very, very tiny in the eyes of mother nature.  I am now very aware how horribly dangerous this time of year is my state.  It could happen to me.  It did happen here.  And it could happen again. 

Picture taken in the debris in Moore, OK on May 20, 2013
I watched as much news as I could take yesterday and then I just sobbed.  There are parents still waiting to hear about their children.  There are little ones lost forever.  I snuck back into Reagan's room last night and watched my peacefully sleeping toddler.  My heart broke for those families who won't get the chance to do that again, my soul wept for their loss.  I traced my finger down her arm and I wove my fingers through her hair.  She was safe and sound tonight because the deadly storm was 60 miles south of us.   60 short miles meant I tucked her into her warm bed tonight and went about a normal evening at home. 

The oddest part of this is that my life pretty much continues on as normal.  I did laundry last night, packed my lunch, showered and went off to work this morning.  But 60 miles away people are digging through debris hoping to find a survivor.  I sit in air conditioning and type while others stand in line for food and water.  My life remains almost unchanged while others lost everything.  The only difference was the path of the tornado, the only thing that separates my regular life and life threatening situation was 60 miles. 

Do you know what you do the day after an F5 tornado destroys everything 60 miles from you?  You make a plan to help.  Please consider helping me purchase supplies to send to Moore, OK. I am collecting donations Tuesday and Wednesday to purchase baby supplies including diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, baby food, blankets, and other items.
Please use PayPal ( https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/send-money-online ) to send me instant money. There are NO FEES if you use your bank account or PayPal balance. This is also a secure way to send money, without sharing your banking information.
Use my email address: andrea.skimbo@okstate.edu

I will personally be purchasing and loading the items, so this isn't just cash I am handing off, it will be used properly and is very needed! Every bit helps, even $5, $10 or $20! My group, Badge Wives, will be transporting the items so this will directly reach the area.

When you lose your invincibility but keep everything else, you find ways to give to those who lost so much more.   Kiss the ones you love, and take tornado reports seriously.  Pray for those effected and God bless Oklahoma.