• Jennifer Dodd & Jeanean Castle

Helping Disaster Survivors Heal

First tornadoes tore across a couple of Central Oklahoma counties on May 19. Then another tornado decimated Moore on May 20. It took the school—and, worse, children. Then on May 31, multiple tornadoes and torrential rains swept through. There was flooding, and power outages, more death and people missing. 

Central Oklahomans are traumatized. Some people have lost their homes and cars; some have lost their business or their place of employment—their livelihood. Worse, some have lost loved ones.

Oklahoma’s children might be the hardest hit. They’ve been scared and confused; they know things are different, that their parents, guardians, even their friends are terribly, terribly sad—or angry. Maybe their toys are gone. Maybe their favorite Princess dress or their superhero cape.

The night of the first tornado—within hours—The Salvation Army mobilized a full Emergency Disaster Services operations, including a full complement of Emotional & Spiritual Care (ESC) counselors, specially trained personnel who have been on the ground since May 20, 2013.

“While we cannot replace everything that these people have lost,” says Major Holly Patterson, the Emotional & Spiritual Care chief, who traveled from Ocala, Fla., to serve in Oklahoma,  “we can come alongside survivors and help them to find emotional and spiritual balance again, which will be of great benefit as they rebuild their lives.”

Major Patterson has provided emotional and spiritual care for fires, floods and many other disasters. “Emotional and Spiritual Care is a ministry of presence,” she says. “It is so important to just be there for the community.”

In the weeks since the initial storms, insurance plans have been consulted; evaluations and valuations have been completed and judgments rendered. Parents are beginning to make plans for their families, beginning to build a future from the rubble. The kids are very aware of  the confusion and broken-heartedness—in their own family, among their friends, in their community.

Salvation Army ESCs have been roving the affected neighborhoods and communities, just being there, visibly, consistently. They’re connecting with these families through the hugs, stuffed animals, cleaning supplies, food and hydration they deliver. The support they offer. The prayers they pray. The commiseration. The encouragement.

As the initial storm’s damage is being cleared away and families are making steps toward living their new normal, they turn to The Salvation Army for material assistance at the Disaster Relief Center. There are ESCs serving here, as well, helping to load up grocery carts with much-needed supplies--and comforting toys and stuffed animals. On a day when a clown has volunteered to make balloon animals for the children while their parents get the households items ad food they need, parents tells the ESCs, “This is the first time she’s laughed in a week,” or “I haven’t seen his smile in so long.” Then “thank you, thank you.”

And in the newly impacted areas after the May 31st super storm, Salvation Army ESC teams are roving again: giving words of encouragement, listening to survivor’s experiences and needs, having prayer together, referring for further counseling and providing comfort. To the young and the old. Being there. However they’re needed. As long as they’re needed.