News Articles

2 stints in tornado-devastated town leave trio ready to volunteer again

MULHALL, Okla. (BP)–Had the May 3 tornado that ravaged Mulhall, Okla., not destroyed the town’s only restaurant, it could have done a killer business.
With the population swelling by more than 100 volunteers each week since the disaster, some from as far away as Plymouth, England, there is a need to feed the workers.
But the Lord provides, and this time he provided through a group from the Brady, Texas, area.
Geoff and Greg Elrod and Jesse and Melissa Estrada packed up their belongings June 1, as well as food and other supplies, and drove to Mulhall in north-central Oklahoma to begin two months of preparing and serving meals for residents and disaster relief volunteers.
The group arrived in Oklahoma two weeks after the storm with a 30-foot trailer full of supplies.
“We stopped in Oklahoma City and asked where we should go,” Geoff said. “We were told Mulhall needed help, so we came up here, set up a cooker and smoked briskets.”
A week after the four returned home, they received a call asking them to return.
“We got support from our churches, and committed to another two months,” said Geoff, who is a member New Song Christian Fellowship in Brady. He added all the churches in Brady donated supplies and food to bring to Mulhall.
Geoff closed down his tree-cutting service, and Jesse, a painter, and Greg, a car salesman, quit their jobs. Geoff’s wife, Shelly, planned to return to Mulhall with the others but discovered she was pregnant and said even the smell of food made her sick. So she stayed home with the couple’s daughter, Summer, who turned 4 June 30.
The Elrods and Estradas, who lived in trailers set up near a school about seven miles north of Mulhall, started cooking and serving three meals a day, but when the crowd for breakfast dwindled, they continued with only lunch and dinner.
“We usually serve sandwiches or something similar for lunch and a hot meal for dinner,” said Greg, a member of Lakeside Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas.
About 100 to 130 people gather at the community building for meals, said Greg, who estimates 60 to 70 percent are volunteers who are building in the area.
The food comes from Baptist disaster relief, Red Cross, the Oklahoma City Food Bank and local donations, said Troy Withey, pastor of First Baptist Church, Mulhall.
“Tyson gave us 1,000 pounds of chicken, and we had to go to Arkansas to pick it up,” Withey said.
Geoff said he is amazed at the generosity of Oklahomans.
“Everything we’ve served has been given to us,” he said.
Geoff said the group was impressed by the Baptist disaster units who were in full operation when he, his brother and the Estradas made the first trip to Mulhall.
“All those people in yellow jackets serving these people — that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
All over Mulhall, buildings are going up, and most of them are being built by volunteer labor.
Although about 75 percent of the town’s 113 buildings were demolished because of tornado damage, and every building in town was damaged, most people are committed to staying in the Logan County community and rebuilding, Withey said.
He said the elementary school will be rebuilt for the beginning of the 2000 school year. This year, elementary students will attend school in nearby Orlando, where high school students from Mulhall have been going. The school will set up classrooms in trailers to accommodate the additional students.
Withey said First Baptist should be ready for occupancy by December. Until then, members will continue to worship in the barn three miles east of town where they have been since the first Sunday after the tornado.
Volunteer groups from Oklahoma, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi and Texas have worked on the church building, Withey said.
“A lot of things had to be done to get the building structurally stable and up to code,” he said. He added sheetrock is up, texturing needs to be done and the pews are still being refinished.
“We’ve continued to keep a full house, even though we’re meeting in a barn,” Withey said. “We’ve added three families to our membership since the tornado.”
Withey said with the Elrods and Estradas leaving, community groups, including First Baptist, will take over feeding the volunteers, who are expected to spend several more months building in Mulhall.
Although some three months ago the Elrods and Estradas had never heard of Mulhall, leaving after two months in the neighborly town wasn’t easy.
“The friendliness and determination of these people is astounding,” said Geoff, as he stacked turkey and cheese on slices of bread. “It has strengthened my faith. I’ve seen how God has brought people together to help each other. Mulhall is going to be a much stronger community because of what these people have been through.”
Geoff said he is also going to be stronger because of the two months in Mulhall, and this won’t be the last time he helps out in a tragedy.
He recently was given 10 cots and four tents to use in disaster situations.
“I would like to be the first one on the scene after a tragedy — to let Jesus shine,” said Geoff, who had never helped out in a disaster before coming to Mulhall.
“This has been a great experience. I’ll never be the same again.”

    About the Author

  • Dana Williamson