Monroe Woman Helps Tornado Victims

As of Wednesday, May 29, 2013
By Paula Wethington

DRAW Disaster Relief at Work - Monroe WomanA Monroe woman who was among a volunteer crew cleaning up after last week’s damaging tornadoes in Moore and Norman, Okla., said she would do it again but hopes such a massive disaster response isn’t needed in any community soon.

#“Just think as if something like that happened in Monroe,” said Lauren Stokes, 46, of Monroe, who was part of the Disaster Relief at Work crew that left the Detroit area Thursday morning and returned late Monday.

#DRAW is a 501(c) nonprofit group based in Waterford. The group, led by executive director Greg Martin, has a mission of providing relief services to communities hit by natural disasters. In addition to sending volunteers, the organization provides 5-gallon buckets whose contents such as plastic bags and toilet paper are meant to be used by disaster victims or cleanup crews on scene.

#Given the 19-hour drive each way, the Michigan volunteers spent about as much time on the road as they did on site in Oklahoma. But Ms. Stokes said she would do it again. “I’ve never been told ‘thank you’ so many times,” she said.

#Another frequent response was: “You came all the way from Michigan to help us?”

#This volunteer assignment was in response to the devastating tornado that hit Moore on May 20, and a smaller one that hit Norman the day before. Ms. Stokes said she learned about DRAW when watching a Fox 2 Detroit piece the morning of May 21 about the agency’s plans to help in Oklahoma. The news report included information on how to contact the group, and she followed up on the Web site and Facebook links.

#She left a message that was interested, and got a call back the following day that she could join the crew.

#There was a background check and other paperwork to take care of in quick fashion, as the team was leaving at 5:30 a.m. Thursday. Ms. Stokes was able to clear her schedule, despite the fact her responsibilities include watching one of her grandchildren. Ms. Stokes also is taking classes full time through Siena Heights University’s Monroe campus.

#The volunteers were to bring their own sleeping bags or mats, work boots and clothing that could stand up to outdoor chores.

#The convoy was one U-Haul truck filled with 5-gallon buckets of supplies and four vans carrying the Detroit-area volunteers. A handful of other volunteers met them at cities along the route so that about 45 people were on the crew.

#While the drive down was straight through, they did get a few hours of sleep on the way home at a church in Joplin, Mo.

#The DRAW volunteers stayed in Norman, but worked in both cities during their three-day stay.

#One of the assignments, she said, was to help clear debris from the site of a high school.

#But the more typical assignment was to help homeowners in with finding any possessions that could be reclaimed, and pushing smaller debris to the curbsite so that demolition crews could be sent to do the bigger work on the buildings.

#While cell phone signals were hit and miss, she said Verizon had deployed its mobile recharging stations to the area and volunteers were among those who could get their devices powered up.

#The Michigan volunteer crew ranged in age from young adult to middle age. Ms. Stokes said some had military experience, others had missionary experience, and were therefore used to working in unusual circumstances. But this diverse group of people became good friends, she said.