Lakewood Ranch aid organization answering the call

jdela@bradenton.comJune 23, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- A local nonprofit company is gearing up to aid victims who still don't have a place to live after last month's deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma.

"We've identified additional need for tented shelter in some more rural communities in Bethel Acres and Little Axe," said ShelterBox USA's communications director, Tiffany Stephenson.

Alan Monroe, director of volunteer programs for the Lakewood Ranch-based organization, will be heading to Oklahoma on Monday to distribute 200 custom tents to people who lost their homes in tornadoes the day before a monster twister, packing 210 mph winds, hit Moore, Okla., May 20, killing 24 people and destroying 2,400 homes.

People in those outlying areas lost their homes, too, but haven't gotten the attention -- or the help -- that Moore residents did. That's part of the problem, Monroe says. "It's in the news for a short amount of time," and then survivors are forgotten.

"I went out a week and a half ago, and went to the area east of Moore, in very rural Oklahoma," Monroe said.

A month after the storms, aid organizations are starting to pull out.

"The shelters are beginning to close down. There's only one shelter left in the entire disaster zone. FEMA is slowing down as well," he said. "But people are still in the rebuilding process."

Monroe says most people in those rural areas don't have insurance to help them rebuild. "There are lots of mobile homes, very poor communities. People are living in cars and under tarps."

ShelterBox's tents are custom-designed and can withstand 70-mph winds.

"We focus on immediate shelter needs after a major disaster," Monroe said. Items inside their trademark green boxes include items a family would need in the days after a disaster, such as water purification systems, blankets,

tents and tool kits.

Monroe says ShelterBox is only providing tents this time around. "The faith-based community in Oklahoma is taking care of most other needs," he said. ShelterBox responded to the same region last month, partnering with local Rotary clubs to provide cell phones so they could communicate with loved ones.

This will be Monroe's eighth deployment. He's helped deliver 35,000 tents after the earthquakes in Haiti. He's delivered aid after tsunamis in Taiwan and other disasters in El Salvador, Peru and Indonesia.

He also deployed closer to home, to the Gulf Coast last year after Hurricane Isaac. Volunteer teams are usually on the scene 48 to 72 hours after a disaster and generally stay 10 days to two weeks.

In every corner of the world, victims' reaction to people coming to help is the same. "You see a sense of hope," Monroe says. "One of the things that brings that hope is that big green box. When you've lost everything and that hope disappears, you can give up. But when you receive that box of aid, it helps you realize you can get back on your feet again," he observed.

"Having that sense of hope is the same in every culture. We're all human."

SherlterBox accepts donations at www.ShelterBoxUSA.org.

Jim DeLa, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JimDeLaBH.

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