By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Emotions ran high on Saturday when eight Cleveland County deputies received checks from Joe Kerry, the head of Glenn Beck’s nonprofit organization Mercury One.
Five of those deputies’ homes were completely destroyed during the May tornadoes while the other three deputies’ homes sustained damage. As Kerry handed each of them their check and shook each of their hands, he made a decision.
“I’m so moved by what I’m seeing in the room we’re going to double that money that we just gave you,” Kerry said.
The money was collected after Glenn Beck asked audience members to contribute and help raise funds for families impacted by the May 20 tornado, he said. Kerry also gave donations to the sheriff’s office and Shelter Oklahoma Schools, totaling somewhere near $720,000.
Kerry gave a $250,000 donation on behalf of Mercury One to the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office after hearing about the need for a better mobile command center to aide with the next disaster.
“He sent me pictures of what you have now which looks like a Wonder Bread truck,” Kerry said. “And I think that’s great, I think that’s ingenuity.”
Sheriff Joe Lester also said he had been in contact with the Associated Builders and Contractors in Oklahoma, who said they were going to match Kerry’s donation.
“Fox has been great and I just love you guys. Tell Glenn thank you and I’ll be sending him a letter,” Lester said.
The eight deputies also received donations from citizens of St. Louis on Saturday. Vadon Willis of St. Louis, was originally from Moore and wanted to help out somehow when he heard about the devastating tornado.
Willis created a Facebook page to organize donations in St. Louis. Then asked a friend who works at a trucking company if they could borrow one to get the donations to Oklahoma.
Willis’ friend borrowed him a 53-foot 18 wheeler and said “fill it up”. Willis passed out gift cards to the eight deputies affected by the storm as well as teddy bears for their children. The supplies he was able to collect in St. Louis were taken to Journey Church in Norman for everyone who was affected.
Willis also passed out gift cards to Moore residents, which wasn’t an easy task he said.
“It’s kinda hard to get people who are pretty proud and don’t really want you to single them out to take a donation so you gotta be kinda slick about it,” Willis said.
Earlier that day, Kerry had also made a $350,000 donation on behalf of Mercury One to Shelter Oklahoma Schools, a group founded by several state representatives and local businesses.
The group plans to raise money to construct a shelter in every Oklahoma school, starting with those located in areas that are at high risk for tornadic activity.
“From Lawton to Oklahoma City out to Shawnee, there’s a lot of areas that these storms continue to go,” Rep. Mark McBride of Moore said.
There are currently 1,652 schools in Oklahoma without shelters. While McBride said they plan to start with those areas that get hit with a lot of severe weather, they plan on spreading out across the state from those areas.
“It’s a lofty goal I guess, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.
John Hunt, Norman Chrysler Jeep Dodge spokesman and also a founder of the group, said the money will help them with that goal and hopefully make sure that another event like May 20 does not happen again.
“You guys said it best, there’s no parent that doesn’t’ wake up and worry about their kids on any day,” Kerry said to both Hunt and McBride.
Kerry said it will provide a little relief to parents knowing that the school at least has a shelter.
Hunt and McBride said they have been collecting money for Shelter Oklahoma Schools since May 23rd and so far have received nearly $2 million.
As Kerry talked to the two men about the damage the area received, he said what they are doing was for a “really great cause”. Kerry had been out to help with Hurricane Sandy and said the damage was vastly different than that left by the tornado.
“It’s really amazing because although obviously there was a lot of damage, it’s not as devastating. The homes are still there, they’re just waterlogged. The cars are still there but they don’t look all smashed up and banged up. And then you come here and it’s just total obliteration,” Kerry said.
Aside from donating to the group, Kerry also brought gift cards and supplies to distribute to the recently affected areas including Little Axe and Shawnee, he said.
In order to donate to the Shelter Oklahoma Schools fund, visit shelteroklahomaschools.org or text SAFETY to 50555 to make a $10 donation.