After tornadoes tore through the state last May, Oklahomans were eager to offer help. Four months later, some groups have closed their doors and moved on, leaving people stuck in red tape with nowhere to go. Recently, the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Project opened its doors to the 2,500 individuals still trying to navigate their way through the recovery process.
On May 20, Melissa Yarbrough was headed home from southeast Oklahoma City with her two children when she decided to turn around and go back to her mom’s house, away from the path of the tornado. When she was finally able to return, she found her home had been damaged, but it was still intact.
“Well our foundation had been lifted and moved just a little bit,” Yarbrough said. “And the walls had cracks going all down them and stuff like that, and a lot of our pictures were damaged.”
Yarbrough is one of 2,500 people that The Red Cross and four other non-profit organizations identified as having long-term material, social or emotional needs.
This group is known as Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Project, and it has three locations in Central Oklahoma. Basically, it serves as a one-stop shop for those seeking recovery aid.
Ken Garcia is the communications director for the American Red Cross of Central and Western Oklahoma. He says the organization formed because of the severity of the situation.
“This was a pretty rough storm system that moved through there in the end of May,” Garcia said. “And there's a lot of people that need help. And recovery is not something that is easy to do, you know. We always talk about it being a marathon and not a sprint.”
The Red Cross teamed up with The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army and The Oklahoma United Methodist Church to help people navigate this marathon. As part of the project, they're assigned case managers, who establish long-term relationships and help them form goals to get back on their feet.
“We know people need that help,” Garcia said. “And so what we do is we set them on that path. We say, ‘Ok, here's what you should be doing right now. Here's what you can be doing in the future. Here's what you'll be doing several months down the road to you know, help down that path to recovery.’”
This co-op of sorts is really the first of its kind. Garcia says the Red Cross has offered recovery assistance elsewhere following natural disasters, but not with other non-profits. So there's hope that the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Project could serve as a model for future disasters, where multiple organizations can work together in a single location.
Even though it’s a new experiment, Garcia looks to the Red Cross’s involvement in other states for guidance.
“There's no perfect answer,” Garcia said. “But you can learn from what has happened in the past, but you can take what worked, and the successes and hardships, and move it and try to get it in a better direction.”
He says the goal is to minimize gaps in the system. He hopes that with the organizations working together, people in need will be able to collect resources more efficiently.
This process seems to be working. Of the roughly 500 cases that were opened in the past month, nearly 140 of them have already been closed, meaning the project was able to identify and provide for any needs clients may have had.
Melissa Yarbrough says the group's knowledge of available resources makes it easier to provide for her family.
“Anytime that we need help with utilities, or if we ever need help with food, they'll refer us to a church,” Yarbrough said. “My kids, they needed school clothing for uniforms for their schools. They helped us with that.”
While much of the focus is on helping with day-to-day needs, the organizations involved are also working with communities to make them more resilient when the next storm hits.