By Zachary Snowdon Smith
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Juan Flores moved into the Walker Center dormitory Wednesday at the University of Oklahoma. He was shown to his new room, pre-furnished with a bed, desk and closet. He spent his first evening watching football on one of the communal TVs in Walker Center’s lobby.
But Flores isn’t a freshman — he’s a 54-year-old resident of Moore. Flores’ mobile home was destroyed Monday by the tornado that also robbed hundreds of others of their homes. Now, more than 300 of those people have turned to OU for help.
“I’m used to giving,” Flores said. “I’m not used to getting charity from other people. I don’t know how to act.”
The newly homeless began arriving at the Walker dorms at 9 p.m. Monday, said Erin Simpson, Walker Center coordinator.
Most arriving displaced people are being housed at the Walker or Cate Center dorms, said Amy Buchanan, OU Department of Housing and Food Services spokesperson. Families with pets are staying at the Kraettli Apartments on the south edge of campus.
For Simpson, the last few days have been finals week all over again. She’s been helping displaced families find quarters that fit their needs for more than 36 hours, broken only by a 90-minute nap.
Volunteers’ around-the-clock labor has been aided by generous donations from the Norman community and OU departments. A call for diapers, food and other supplies received such a copious response that needs were met in less than 24 hours. Organizers now request only donations of gift cards, Buchanan said.
To accommodate the donations, organizers have converted a dozen Walker Center dorm rooms into makeshift storerooms.
“We literally have a room full of toilet paper,” Simpson said. “We have rooms and rooms of shampoo. ... Pretty insane, huh? It’s really heartening.”
OU’s Department of Housing and Food Services has scrambled not only to feed and clothe the displaced but also to offer them entertainment in the form of art contests, relay races and a screening of “The Sandlot.”
“That’s what I love about Oklahoma,” Flores said. “In Oklahoma, when things like this happen, they just get up and dust their jeans off. They come together. ... I’m from Texas, but I love Oklahoma.”
Organizers don’t know how long the situation will last, but they’re prepared to accommodate displaced people at least until the end of summer break in August, Buchanan said. Walker Center could house about another 1,100 people, if necessary.
“Our entire university community has really pulled together,” Simpson said. “That, to me, is what it means to be a Sooner.”