By Prois Staffer Kara Jo Lorenz
People often ask what the National Wild Turkey Federation is. I usually have to clarify that it does not have anything to do with drinking whiskey but is a non-profit group that is dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and preservation of our hunting heritage. At least, that’s it’s mission statement. But the NWTF is so much more than that. It is an organization that has taught me many things about being a responsible hunter and outdoor enthusiast. Three years ago when I was asked if I’d be interested in heading up a new chapter for the cities of Moore and Norman, I was excited, but unsure because I don’t really consider myself a leader and I had never done something like that before. But I stepped out of my comfort zone and said yes. Each year we host a fundraising banquet. It’s all about good friends, good food, and of course, raising money for our cause. I’ve also spent many hours helping other chapters to organize women events, volunteering at youth shooting events, etc. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. It’s given me a sense of pride knowing that I may have helped teach someone something new or helped someone discover an interest in the outdoors. I felt very content with my community involvement and volunteering efforts.
Until May 20th 2013. A devastating F5 tornado ripped through Moore Oklahoma. As I watched the drama unfold on the television at work, my heart broke for all those affected. Businesses, homes, and even schools were destroyed. Men, women and children lost their lives and many more were injured. The wing of the hospital where I delivered both my children was torn apart. Our pediatrician’s office had the same fate. My physician’s office was completely leveled, only the foundation was left. You see we lived in Moore for the first 7 years I lived in Oklahoma. I’ve watched it grow and really become a wonderful place to live. I’ve driven past one of the elementary schools that were destroyed multiple times on my way to visit friends. In fact I’ve visited many of the places that are no longer there.
There was an immediate outpour of support from all over the country. Music stars put on a tribute concert, NBA stars made donations in the amount most of us will never see. People from neighboring towns and other states made their way here to lend a hand. It was so natural, so pure. I think across the country, people were touched by this tragedy. But as the weeks passed, the national media moved on to other stories, and the Moore Tornado faded into the background.
I guess as fate would have it, my schedule had kept me busy for the first few weekends following the tornado but I felt compelled to help. I reached out to our NWTF chapter early on to see if anyone would be interested in putting together a work group to help out. This caught our regional director’s attention, who reached out to national. We set the date for June 22nd and rallied the troops. We had NWTF committee members from other chapters including ours come out to help. One of our state board members works with a lady who’s house received substantial damage and was uninhabitable. I was hoping we could be of some help but since it had been a month since the tornado hit, I wasn’t sure how much work needed to be done. I was about to find out.
On this typical hot and humid summer day in Oklahoma, we turned into the neighborhood where her house is and goose bumps covered my arms. A lump in my throat grew. To our left was what remained of an elementary School, and to our right were the remains of homes. Over a dozen vehicles were still sitting where they landed, windows blown, paint stripped off, just beaten and obviously totaled. We passed by construction crews who were about to bulldoze someone’s home. I had heard people describe the destruction as if a bomb went off. They were right. It was awful and gut wrenching.
But we were there to help, not sightsee. We arrived at the home of the woman we were there to help and started to work right away. It had been a month but she still did not have power. Of course she didn’t need it because she also didn’t have windows, a garage door, or much left of a roof. Her fence had been torn up- the metal posts were literally bent over. Trees were snapped, roof shingles were everywhere, along with random debris from her yard, or someone else’s yard from down the street, who knows. We were to move all trash and debris to the sidewalk to be picked up by the city. The grass had grown up so it was difficult to see all the stuff in the yard. I even found about 30 old baseball cards from the 80’s scattered around. We had to drag our boots through the grass to find things that needed to be picked up. Another volunteer group was driving by and asked us if we wanted help. They jumped on board and with everyone working together, we were able to clear her yard, cut down trees, and remove the rest of her fence. By the time we were done, there was about a 65 foot stretch of trash ready to be picked up.
We were exhausted, but as we packed up and were saying our goodbyes, I think we all had tears in our eyes. The homeowner tried to tell us thank you and I watched her chin tremble a bit. At that point I couldn’t think of her thanking us. I wanted to thank her for giving us the opportunity to help. Knowing that we helped her was one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced.
That was when I really realized that the NWTF is NOT just a conservation group. It is a group dedicated to helping communities and friends too. I am so grateful for being a part of something that not only gives back to wildlife, but to people as well. I have learned that we are capable of many things when we work together.
Whether you are with a group, or by yourself, take some time to go down and help. It’s been over a month but there is still so much to do. Even walking up to this home, it seemed so overwhelming, but we just got after it. Each person that lends a hand brings a neighbor one step closer to a sense of normalcy. We worked all day. It was hot, it was dirty and I think we are all a little sore. But it was an honor.