L to R: Dee Meeks, Disaster Outreach/Long Term Solutions Specialist, Rhondda Buthod, Volunteer Food Pantry Supervisor, Larry Mullins, Client Services Manager, Ticia Massey, Volunteer, Valerie Thomas, Executive Director. Not Pictured: Lisa Massey, Office Manager, Charlye Miller, Volunteer Donation Supervisor

On March 25, 2015, a powerful EF-2 tornado ripped through several counties in NE Oklahoma, damaging more than 300 homes, killing one person and injuring dozens of others.

Although there was tremendous damage to lives and property, this was by definition, a “low-attention” disaster. You probably have never heard about the tornado unless you live in the immediate area.

In early 2015, CDP created the Midwest Early Recovery Fund (ERF) for just this type of recovery work. ERF provides funding to community organizations supporting vulnerable populations impacted by low-attention disasters in a 10-state region in the Midwest.

For 87 years, Sands Springs Community Services (SSCS), whose mission is “to assist, connect, empower and serve anyone in situational or generational poverty,” has been working with the most vulnerable residents in this small community just 10 miles west of Tulsa.

Because SSCS is a long time trusted community partner, those most vulnerable after the March tornado looked to them for much needed help.

In the first three weeks following the tornado, SSCS provided more than $85,000 in disaster assistance to more than 135 families, including 84 families who lost everything in a mobile home park. Of that total, $30,000 went to food replacement when power outages caused food insecure families to lose all the food in their refrigerators and freezers.

Of course, SSCS staff was quickly overwhelmed. Between existing clients and new “disaster clients,” the small staff worked day and night to meet a 300 percent increase in needs, serving approximately 5,000 people with only three full-time employees.

CDP heard about the incredible work of SSCS and worked with Valerie Thomas, the executive director of SSCS, to apply for an ERF grant of $29,058 to hire an additional staff person who could focus only on disaster relief so other SSCS employees could get back to their very important day to day work. This new employee, Dee Meeks, does outreach to hard-to-reach clients, including relocated, vulnerable, elderly, mentally ill, and marginalized clients. She is also reaching out to businesses, individual donors, faith-based organizations, civic organizations, and corporations for donations to help clients.

“SSCS was stretched beyond capacity before the Midwest Early Recovery Fund made it possible to add Dee to our staff,” said Thomas. “We were working 16 to 20 hour days, had serious client loads, and other important programs were set aside. Now, because of the generosity and support of the Center of Disaster Philanthropy, we are able to function effectively and efficiently. Dee is working with tornado survivors, Lisa Massey is working with all the financials, Larry Mullins oversees Client Services, and, as the Executive Director, I am able to focus on the management of the Agency and our new Family Forward program. The support of the Midwest Early Recovery Fund literally gave this agency hope and breathing room so our Clients could also receive hope and the complete gamut of services they so desperately need.”

Tornado survivors within this community are back to work, in their homes, and are once again focused on the promise of their futures. This means the community is thriving again! The Midwest Recovery Fund allowed this small agency to survive this disaster – and make a very positive impact in ways we could have only imagined!