Church, World Vision partnership helps Oklahoma community rebuild year after tornado

Story by Chris Huber / Photos by Mo Sadjadpour/Genesis Photos and Lindsey Minerva

About three weeks before the deadly tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma, last May, Church of the Harvest Pastor Kirk Pankratz sensed his church needed to use its facilities in a new way for the community.

In the aftermath of a May 2013 tornado that swept through Moore, Oklahoma, survivors picked up basic supplies at First Baptist Church. (©2013 Mo Sadjadpour/Genesis Photos)

In the aftermath of a May 2013 tornado that swept through Moore, Oklahoma, survivors picked up basic supplies at First Baptist Church. (©2013 Mo Sadjadpour/Genesis Photos)

On May 20, the EF5 storm carved a 12-mile path of destruction through Moore and the surrounding area, killing 24 and leveling thousands of homes. It missed the church's Moore campus by just a mile and a half.

Kirk had his answer—turn the church's Midwest City campus into a disaster relief center.

"We were just right there in the middle of it," Kirk says. "After the storm, we realized we could use this as a staging base long-term."

In the year since the tornado, relief goods, rebuilding materials, and volunteer teams have poured into Moore. World Vision and Church of the Harvest have partnered to make sure those resources go to families most in need.

As World Vision mobilized donors' resources to get emergency aid to the disaster zone, Church of the Harvest deployed more than 5,000 volunteers, prepared more than 35,000 meals, and stocked up on donated household goods and furniture.

"Seeing our church and hundreds of churches and volunteers literally from around the nation come together was an overwhelming experience," Kirk says in a video produced after the initial response.

Hannah Osborne, 8, and her mother, Deidra, huddle by what was left of their home after a tornado leveled their neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma. Photo by Lindsey Minerva

Hannah Osborne, 8, and her mother, Deidra, huddle by what was left of their home after a tornado leveled their neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma. (Photo by Lindsey Minerva)


After the immediate relief activities and media coverage died down, the church provided volunteer housing for visiting church teams and contractors while World Vision staff turned part of the building into a 3,000-square-foot warehouse for building materials.

Zack Hesser, who runs the response for Church of the Harvest, was inspired by the outpouring of donations and steady stream of volunteers throughout 2013.

"God's really been blessing us and filling in those voids really well," Zack says.

World Vision initially provided two 53-foot semi-truckloads of materials to fill the warehouse and help families rebuild or repair their homes. Many were under- or un-insured and cannot afford to start fresh.

Donors gave more than $1.2 million in response to the Moore tornado. In the year since, World Vision distributed nearly $850,000 worth of emergency and rebuilding supplies. Congregations like Church of the Harvest are the key link in getting help to affected communities often forgotten in a big disaster like this one.

World Vision also provided 15,657 people with relief supplies, such as personal hygiene kits, blankets, cleanup kits, food, school supplies, and tarps. More than 2,300 students and 156 teachers received school supplies.

Volunteers from First Baptist Church load food, diapers, and other supplies for distribution to tornado survivors in Moore, Oklahoma. ©2013 Mo Sadjadpour/Genesis Photos

Volunteers from First Baptist Church load food, diapers, and other supplies for distribution to tornado survivors in Moore, Oklahoma. (©2013 Mo Sadjadpour/Genesis Photos)

"[World Vision] made tremendous strides in responding to children and families in Moore through great partners," says Phyllis Freeman, who led the organization's Oklahoma effort. "Having a warehouse in a disaster zone is strategic to organizations that are dependent upon volunteers to help with the rebuilding efforts."

For months after the tornado hit, Zack says his team was constantly on the go—coordinating teams, receiving materials, managing cases of the most needy families.

"You just have to keep running until you have to hand off the baton or take a nap in the dirt," he says.

World Vision intends to help tornado victims in Moore for as long as three years. While things have slowed a little in recent months, families are still rebuilding and the warehouse is still providing materials.

Zack remembers seeing families who lost everything responding with joy when they received a "House in a box" kit—household essentials, bedding, bed, bed frames, dresser, couch, kitchen table, chairs.

"They're like, 'Wait, there's more. I can't wait to sit on this couch,'" Zack says. "It's not junk. It's awesome to see them—they're stoked to start living."

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