A Look At How Your Tornado Donations Have Been Spent

Monday, May 12th 2014, 11:09 pm
By: News 9

In the wake of the severe storms that devastated communities in and around the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, more than $72 million in donations flowed into the coffers of local relief organizations.

That's almost double what people donated after an EF-5 tornado leveled Joplin, Missouri two years earlier.

One year after the Oklahoma storms, quite a bit of donated money remains available for those who need it. But the majority has been spent, and not necessarily on what you would expect.

"Once there was a tree," 6-year-old Mila Sanderson said while reading from Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.

The book tells a story of unconditional love, but that's a story young Mila already knows well, thanks to the events that followed last May 20.

"When we decided to leave, to get out of the path of the tornado," explained Mila's mother, Nina, "that's whenever she started to feel really afraid."

Nina Sanderson said even though the May 20 tornado missed their home in southeast Moore, it twisted her daughter's normally happy demeanor.

"She would wake up crying, she'd have bad dreams about the tornado and she wouldn't want to go places to be away from home, like she used to," Nina said.

Fortunately, the Sanderson's discovered that one of the many services covered by disaster relief funding was counseling, and they jumped at the opportunity.

"When we did get the counseling services, the results were almost immediate," Nina said.

The Sanderson's were not alone.

According to the United Way, of the $20.2 million they took in through the Governor's OK Strong fund and their own relief fund, $9.4 million has thus far been spent or committed. Thirty-nine percent of that has gone toward mental health services -- that's more than has gone to rebuilding, immediate needs or any other category of need.

West of Oklahoma City, in El Reno, Cindy and Ron Percy had some very different needs following the May 31 storm. They were dealing with property damage, as well as, significant flooding.

"The water was four feet deep out here in the road," Ron Percy stated.

Percy said the American Red Cross and, specifically, their Red Cross caseworker, has been there for them at every turn.

When the floodwaters damaged his car's engine -- "She helped me get my transmission rebuilt," Percy said.

When they had no power for a week -- "Twice a day, they made sure that me and my wife was fed," Percy said.

A year later and Percy said their caseworker still checks on them.

"She said, we're here for the long haul," Percy said, "and bless her heart, she still is."

The local chapter of the American Red Cross received $52 million in relief funds.  Ninety-two percent of that has now been spent, with the largest chunk, 34 percent, going to individual and community resiliency. That's things like storm shelters and home preparedness kits.

"Our accountability process is very very detailed," Janienne Bella, Regional CEO of the American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma, said.

Bella said she and her staff have gone to great lengths to make sure the donations have been used as intended. Case managers review individual requests, while committees scrutinize the larger grants.

"Dotting our i's and crossing our t's to make sure that the donor's intent is absolutely first and foremost on our minds," Bella emphasized.

For the Sanderson's, that intent has given them their smiling, happy daughter back.

"That was probably the most loving thing that anybody could have done," said Nina Sanderson, "is sponsor that kind of help...and we are so grateful."

Between the Red Cross and the United Way, there's still about 15 million dollars available to those impacted by the May 2013 storms. If that's you or someone you know, you can call 211 to get more information.