The Woodward News

April 20, 2014

Disaster assistance charity organizing

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

— The 2012 Woodward tornado did more than just destroy a significant part of Woodward, in an ironic way it helped create a springboard for some who recognized a need for a different kind of disaster assistance.

A fledgling charity organization, called "Left Behind Disaster Victims," is in the process of securing its 501-C-3 status and is already helping organize and point disaster victims to agencies who can help them find full closure and get back to life, said  founder Kathrine Cox.

 Cox, her vice president, Roberta Gilbert, Ph.D. and bookkeeper/treasurer, Sandy Freeman, have been working together over the past few months to create a foundation that offers to disaster victims a more long-term approach to recovery, they said.

"What we know is that Red Cross and the Ministerial Alliance and The Medical Reserve Corp all do a great job assisting them with immediate needs for shelter, food and even funds to get clothing and medical needs," Gilbert said. "But what happens when it is weeks and months later and you are still out there trying to figure your life out."  

The desire to help has been burning in Cox for more than a year and yet without any official organization, she ran head-long into brick wall after brick wall.

"I even talked to Matt Lehenbauer of Ready Woodward and he tried to help me as much as he could," Cox said. "But it was just hard to get people to take me seriously."

The drive to help people affected by disaster surfaced when she became aware of the plight of some of the tornado victims who were still struggling about a year after the tornado.

"I was online posting and telling people how awful I felt for those people," she said. "A few months later, someone messaged me privately and told me she was one of the victims of the storm."

That was in 2013, she said. And when she initiated some other conversations with people also still affected by the disaster she found, to her horror, there are some who were far from healed and back to normal from the ordeal.

Indeed, recently three plaintiffs received $5 million award after a judge found their insurance companies had been guilty of "bad faith" in their dealings with home owners here who suffered total losses of their homes. Even now, though, those families must wait while the matter is possibly appealed.

But Cox said even more local families not a part of that suit are still not in their homes and are facing hardships.

Now, after another year of research and beating the bushes for people to talk to her about their experience, Cox believes she has uncovered a need in Woodward for long-term disaster recovery assistance organization.

She is a champion of the Red Cross as well as the Ministerial Alliance and the myriad other local charity organizations that are superb at  meeting immediate and many short-term needs.

But Cox was talking to people who had more comprehensive issues, like depression from long-term stress, difficulty understanding how to access legal help, unable to think clearly enough to organize a plan or even know what they needed, she said.

So she felt there was a gap in care.

She said she met people whose homes were not livable but who were in litigation with their insurance companies. She met people whose trailer homes were all but gone and had to move out of the community to live with family while they sorted things out.

These people, she said, needed help finding resources, such as counselors who might see them for free or reduced fees, assistance finding legal counsel, or even just someone to help them feed their families in the days after a disaster, she said.

Not one to sit idle for too long, Cox founded "Left Behind Disaster Victims," in her desire to create a foundation that guides those affected by disaster through the burdensome and sometimes protracted processes involved in recovery.

The organization will be available in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but also makes themselves available in an ongoing, supportive way to those who might have a long road ahead, Cox and Gilbert said.

With a nursing degree in her background as a Hospice nurse in Kansas, as well as her vice president's background in mental health counseling, Cox believes she has a solid framework that will enable the organization to grow and thrive.

The aim is to provide support in the days,  weeks, and even months after the disaster with everything from kitchen items and basics like furniture and bedding, to helping them with simple planning that is so difficult when one has lost everything they have, Gilbert said.

While Cox has not been able to help those "left behind" victims of the tornado, it was their suffering, Cox said, that galvanized her to action in a more general sense.

Now, with two private warehouses for storage, the organization is off and running.

"When I call people now for assistance, they are more willing to help me because they see the Facebook page and we can show them we are real," Cox said.

The fledgling organization has already stepped up and helped in the week after the fire at Woodridge West, said Brandy Clay, Woodridge West Manager.

According to Clay, Cox helped her organize a donation of boxes from U Haul to help residents move items out of their apartments as well as a donation of a semi truck and trailer to hold the contents of those apartments that had to be emptied and cleaned, Clay said.

"I do want to do that, to mention their help and thank them," Clay said.

Cox said, while she was working with zero funding, since the organization has yet to plan their first fund raiser and is still awaiting 501-C-3 status, it did not stop her from assisting disaster victims.

"When I heard of the Woodridge West fire, I thought, 'Okay, it's time to get out there,'," she said.

Cox said, without spending a dime, other than her own time, she was able to secure a large food donation, helped one disabled lady get her lift chair professionally cleaned and helped calm those who needed to know someone was there for them.

For now, the women are tending to organizational "house keeping" and getting their accounts set up at banks and their tax status established. But they are also planning fund raisers and are open to donations.

Any donations will receive a receipt and the group asks if you wish to donate, please donate items such as baby furniture, beds, towels, diapers, living room furniture, kitchen appliances and hygiene items.

"We will point them to other organizations for clothing," Cox said. We are just taking baby steps now, while we stay open to those who need us."

For more information or to make contact with the organization, go to it's facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/woodwardleftbehinddisastervictims or call 580-307-2106 or 580-216-0365