Three years after a devastating F5 tornado tore through the town of Moore, the lives of most of those affected have finally returned to normal. For some, their lives are even better than before, thanks to brand new homes from Habitat for Humanity.
Along a 17-mile path, over 1,100 homes were completely destroyed and an additional 1,500 were damaged in wake of the half hour span of the tornado. The disaster caused nearly $2 billion in damages and claimed the lives of 24 people.
One of the first response teams on the scene was the Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity (CCHFH). Immediately after the storm, Habitat distributed trailers around the metro area to collect donations of food, water, and diapers for victims. Habitat for Humanity groups from Cleveland County, Central Oklahoma, and Stillwater were also part of the massive clean-up effort, digging through wreckage, salvaging personal belongings, and tearing down homes beyond repair.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families affected by this terrible disaster,” said Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International in a press release following the disaster. “Habitat has a long history in this area, and we’re committed to being there over the long term to help low-income families repair and rebuild their homes and to support communities as they make a new start.”
Habitat for Humanity has long been known for their efforts to build and repair homes for struggling families, providing a stable, safe environment for those who need it most. After the 1999 Moore tornado, Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity groups rebuilt homes for 60 families that lost everything in the devastation.
In 2013, Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity committed to rebuilding ten homes for ten families affected by the tornado. As of 2015, five of these homes have been completed and two are in progress. Looking ahead to 2016, CCHFH hopes to complete four to six more homes for these families in need.
With the help of the community, Habitat for Humanity has been able to fit each new home with a tornado shelter. United Way of Central Oklahoma and Storm Safe Tornado Shelters donated shelters for the first 10 homes built for affected families.
Many local charities have donated to Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity to help complete these homes. Hobby Lobby donated $1 million to the cause immediately after the storms and the 2015 Oklahoma City Home and Garden Show chose Cleveland County Habitat as their charity partner.
“Words do not describe our gratitude for all the volunteers, sponsors, and donations we receive to help our rebuilding efforts,” said Linda Banta, Executive Director of CCHFH, after the organization was chosen as the recipient of the proceeds from the show. “Without the enormous amount of support we receive, we could not continue to accomplish the dream of homeownership for our families in need.”
The first of the ten homes completed, finished in February 2015, was for Yannet Hodson and her son, who lost all of their belongings in a matter of minutes.
“[It’s] overwhelming to see all your belongings spread everywhere. We had all of our walls blown down, so everything was exposed and blown away,” said Hodson in an interview with News 9.
The home-building process took about a year after the application acceptance and Yannet and her son put in over 50 hours of work on the construction of their house, which is expected of every family who receives a Habitat home.
On the day of the Hodson home dedication, family and friends gathered to celebrate the start of a new chapter in the family’s life.
“It means so much for the both of us. It’s a new beginning. It’s hope. It’s a bright future. It’s just giving you that push to continue on in life, so I cannot be happier,” said Hodson.
At the dedication, the Turkey Day 5K Committee presented a $10,000 check to Habitat for Humanity. The Turkey Day 5K, held on Thanksgiving, began in November 2013, when three friends wanted to do something to help the Moore community recover from the tornado. Shaun Mendez, Kyle Meek, and Liz Barfield decided to create a race with all the proceeds benefitting Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity. Since its inception, Turkey Day 5K has hosted over 800 runners and donated nearly $16,000 to help rebuild homes in Moore.
Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity is currently beginning work on the seventh home for victims of the Moore tornado. Mike and Jessica Bradley, the newest accepted applicants, are hoping this new home can provide a safe environment for their two young daughters to grow. Jessica says all she wants is to “give our girls the home we never had.”
Much of the funds that build Habitat homes come from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which sells new and used donated home goods, building materials, appliances, and other household items. Cleveland County opened a new ReStore location in August 2015 in Norman after growing out of their previous smaller location.
Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity is always looking for help to make a difference in the lives of as many families as possible. Home good donations can be brought to any Oklahoma ReStore or pickup service can be arranged. Information about volunteering and monetary donations can be found on the CCHFH website (cchfh.org) or by phone at (405) 360-7868.