HENRYVILLE, Ind. — Jennifer McConahay lost her home, and almost her life, when a violent tornado struck Henryville on March 2, 2012.
On Friday, she headed to Oklahoma with a group to pay forward the relief help she received in the storm’s aftermath to those reeling from the much mightier tornado that touched ground in and around the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on May 20.
“We lost everything,” McConahay said of the storm’s effect on her family. “Two cars. Two homes. Two minutes.”
McConahay not only lost her home but another newer mobile home on her property that her family was waiting to move into after the spring ground dried.
She said she knows all too well the “shell-shocked feeling” the people are now experiencing in the Sooner State. It’s the same feeling she felt while stepping from the rubble of Mount Moriah Church, where she and her son had sought refuge.
While the tornado was devastating for McConahay, from the storm she met a friend, Jennifer Corkum.
Corkum, a Scottsburg resident, wasn’t directly affected by the storm but had made the 10-minute drive to Henryville afterward to help out however she could and found herself pulling people out of damaged houses.
“We met in the rubble. And, we just clicked.” McConahay said of the duo’s introduction.
Although they had not talked for several months, when television reports began to show the damage of the Oklahoma storm last week, the women were soon talking on the phone.
“I cried when I saw the live coverage. I had to turn it off,” Corkum said. “I said, ‘We are watching people die right now.’”
It wasn’t long after that the women formed Indiana Cares, an organization of area residents with the goal of responding to natural disasters around the country. While providing assistance to the Oklahoma EF-5 tornado victims will be the group’s first project, McConahay and Corkum said they received an extensive crash course in disaster relief following the March 2 tornadoes in southern Indiana.
The woman said it took so long for officials to declare a Henryville disaster and for large relief organizations to arrive, they spearheaded their own relief efforts.
“Our community needed help. We were working 14-, 16-hour days for the first month,” McConahay said. “We ran everything out of Henryville Community Church.”
The woman said they organized everything from supply distribution, volunteer collaboration, demolition crews and assessing survivors’ needs.
“All the volunteers went through us,” McConahay said. “We were able to ... get it done.”
The women expressed that their efforts weren’t bound by the limitations faced by much larger organizations, and they hope to be able to continue that uninhibited relief effort by taking Indiana Cares to Oklahoma.
“It slows to a crawl when you have to deal with all that red tape,” McConahay said of the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Metro United Way, but added those institutions provide invaluable resources as well.
McConahay, a stay-at-home mom, and Corkum, a full-time college student, said they are fortunate to be able to find the time to travel to Oklahoma to not only reach out to but actually embrace tornado victims.
The women said Tuesday that they were planning to depart Henryville this morning in a caravan of vehicles and drive to Norman, less than 10 miles from the city of Moore.
They are meeting with officials from First Baptist Church in Norman, a connection that was made through a woman Corkum met while playing the social networking game, Castleville, on Facebook.
The volunteer group will work throughout Saturday and begin their journey back Sunday morning. McConahay said the trip will be their first of many as the needs of tornado survivors will continue for the foreseeable future.
“Our first trip is (for) initial supplies and to get our feet on the ground to see what they need,” Corkum said.
They said they are not sure exactly what kind work Indiana Cares will do while they are there, but the group’s 15 or so travelers are prepared for anything from distributing food to shoveling debris.
“We will do whatever needs to be done in whatever capacity they need us in,” McConahay said.
The group will deliver a load of supplies that includes toiletries, clothing and food.
Bunker Hill Church in Salem has stepped up to subsidize the cost of gasoline for Indiana Cares to make the trip. The women, and the rest of the Indiana Cares volunteers, hope to give Oklahoma victims the same care that has been given to March 2, 2012, EF-4 tornado victims.
“A broken community can’t do it on its own,” McConahay said. “They need surrounding communities to help repair.”
During the trip and future visits, the group plans to carry out the spirit of goodwill given only by willing volunteers in times of community-wide crisis.
“You can’t just sit and be, like, ‘Oh, I wish I could do something,’” Corkum said. “Don’t wish. Do it.”