Lone Grove, Oklahoma – Mr. Sam Porter, director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) was driving through this devastated southern Oklahoma community on Wednesday morning after a rare winter tornado ripped homes and businesses apart, turning local families’ lives upside down in its deadly wake. However, this was no coincidence. Mr. Porter had left Oklahoma City earlier that morning to mobilize the BGCO’s disaster relief effort. In coordination with local, state, and federal emergency officials, Mr. Porter requested BGCO volunteers set up their self-powered mobile cooking facility known as Unit 1, in the First Baptist Church of Lone Grove parking lot.
Unit 1, a self-contained commercial kitchen built on a semi-truck trailer, is capable of preparing up to 18,000 meals per day. Mr. Dan Fuller, zone leader for this area, explained that Unit 1 prepares hot meals from food supplied by the Red Cross, Salvation Army, FEMA, and private donors. After the BGCO volunteers prepare the food, in addition to their onsite serving line inside the First Baptist Church, individual meals and drinking water are disbursed to various relief organizations for distribution to the homeless victims, emergency personnel and volunteers working throughout the disaster area.
Over the noise of electric generators and busy kitchen personnel, Mr. Fuller stated the BGCO also owned approximately 20 smaller trailers with a 2,000 meal per day serving capacity that was available to be utilized around the state and nation for disaster relief. Desiring to provide essential services beyond food preparation, BGCO volunteers also form chainsaw crews, cleanup crews, and provide childcare. In some cases, these volunteer crews remain long after the remote food preparation trailers are needed. The BGCO also provides portable showers on trailers with clothes washer and dryer facilities for both volunteers and disaster victims. After visiting with Mr. Fuller and seeing the BGCO volunteers’ relief effort, I was inspired by their dedication.
The previous night’s tornado had also damaged AT&T’s cellular tower, so I continued towards Ardmore to use my AT&T wireless Internet service. As I drove, I noticed the Oklahoma National Guard, Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Lone Grove City Police providing traffic control services. OG&E and State Farm Insurance employees were erecting temporary tents to better serve their customers. Red Cross and the Salvation Army had their mobile disaster relief units present. Local carpenters and roofers were already working diligently to repair storm damage as quickly as possible. Telco Systems employees were hard at work replacing downed telephone lines. OG&E trucks were literally, everywhere. Remarkably, trucks loaded with sheetrock, lumber, and shingles were already delivering construction materials. Pickup trucks with construction workers and ladders could be seen in route to repair damaged homes and buildings.
As I passed by the Lone Grove branch of the American National Bank with their enormous Stars and Stripes flying unfurled in a northerly breeze, I got goose bumps all over me. Overwhelmed with pride to be an Oklahoman and an American, it struck me. When the chips are down, our humanity rises to the occasion. Although I would never have thought it possible, there WAS a silver lining in this terrible tragedy. The human spirit is awesome.