OU offers helping hand to tornado victims

Summer 2013

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A convenience store in Walker Tower became a makeshift donation center in the days after the May tornadoes. Faculty, staff and students mobilized into an efficient army of volunteers.

A convenience store in Walker Tower became a makeshift donation center in the days after the May tornadoes. Faculty, staff and students mobilized into an efficient army of volunteers.

May 20, 2:56 to 3:35 p.m.



Thirty-nine minutes was all the deadly tornado needed to pull the city of Moore, Oklahoma, from its hinges, scatter it with 210 mph winds and toss it back down in piles of debris unrecognizable by those who called it home. Ten miles to the south, the University of Oklahoma was unscathed, but not untouched. Members of the University family—students, faculty and staff—were among the thousands left homeless in the wake of the storm.



As first responders arrived on the scene in Moore, people from all over the country began calling the OU Foundation with the same question, “How can we help?”



The answer was Help OUr Neighbor, a fund created to provide short-term and immediate aid to OU faculty, staff and students in disaster situations. Since May 20, more than a thousand donors reached out with gifts totaling over $213,000. Corporations, alumni, individuals and universities sent checks and well-wishes to people they might never meet.



People like Kristen Holmes. The assistant in OU’s open records office was in her Moore home recovering from surgery when she heard the tornado sirens. As many in Oklahoma do at such times, she went out to look at the sky. “I came back in, and the forecasters were saying the funnel was heading straight for the Warren Theater, moving east. That’s exactly where our house is,” she said.



Her family jumped in the car five minutes before the storm hit. “It took us two and a half hours to get back into the neighborhood,” Holmes said. When she saw her street, her heart sank. The house had escaped Oklahoma’s capricious weather for 33 years, but not this time.



Before nightfall, Holmes heard the University was opening its dorms to OU storm victims and out-of-town first-responders. “I called Food and Housing, and they said, ‘Come down.’” By 2 p.m. the next day, she had shelter. “OU was right on top of it. My daughter and I didn’t have anywhere to go. The University gave us a calm place to sit down and wrap our heads around what had happened and to get organized.”



The Help OUr Neighbor fund allowed the University to provide those like Holmes with gift cards and cash to take care of immediate expenses. President David Boren set up an action line so callers could help the University identify families and students in need. Meanwhile, gifts poured in from across the nation in amounts from $1 to $50,000, contributed anonymously.



Some of the gifts arrived from unexpected places. The Texas A&M softball team contributed, as did international students who had returned to their homelands. Transplanted Sooners on both coasts not only contributed, but also sent words of encouragement. “C’mon, Sooners. Stay strong and rebuild.” “There’s only one Oklahoma, and our Sooner Love knows no bounds.” And, “I am proud to be a Sooner helping a Sooner in need.” In the weeks that followed, more than 300 Sooners received aid through the fund.



“The warmth that you feel from OU and the help from everyone who works for OU is just amazing,” said Holmes. “It almost makes me cry whenever I talk about it.



“The Help OUr Neighbor fund is incredible. You never think something like this will happen to you, but you just never know.”