MOORE — The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence honored the Moore Public Schools Foundation Oct. 22 for its fundraising and response to the May 20 tornado that destroyed two schools and damaged many others.
Les Risser, president of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, surprised leaders of the Moore foundation with an Outstanding Program Award for Local Education Foundations, which included a $1,000 cash prize. Moore was one of three foundations that received Outstanding Program Awards, which were presented during the Fall Forum for Local Education Foundations in Norman. Leaders of the Moore foundation received a standing ovation when the award was announced.
“We were impressed with how the foundation immediately came to the aid of the district and partnered with First American Bank to create a relief fund and an emergency website to receive charitable gifts,” Risser said, stating that the foundation had raised nearly $1 million for Moore Public Schools tornado relief. “We were also moved by how — in the midst of chaos and personal loss — foundation officers juggled duties to ensure that the organization could fully support the school district in its recovery.”
Joshua Hinkle, now president of the Moore Public Schools Foundation, was serving as secretary at the time of the tornado. He unexpectedly became the coordinator of the foundation’s relief efforts since the foundation’s president, veterinarian Kristi Scroggins, was focused on setting up a shelter for displaced animals in Moore, and the vice president, Aiden Street, had lost her home in the tornado.
“In that morning after the tornado, I had two cell phones and both of them were dead by 9:30 a.m.,” Hinkle said. “There were so many people who had seen the devastation on the news and wanted to help. People called from all over the U.S. just wanting to send books, desks, clothes, money — anything they could do to make an impact.”
Hinkle worked with his employer, First American Bank of Norman, to set up an emergency website since district computer servers and electricity were knocked out, taking down the foundation website, as well. First American created a webpage with the capability to receive online credit card donations.
Gifts came from all over the country — from Hurricane Sandy survivors in New York and tornado survivors in Alabama, to school children who held penny campaigns and sent handmade greeting cards. ATX Mafia, an Austin-based T-shirt company, donated $65,000 by designing and selling T-shirts specifically to benefit the Moore Schools’ relief effort. An anonymous corporate donor gave $500,000, designated to help rebuild an underground locker room at Central Junior High, which was flooded in a secondary storm one week after the initial tornado.
Through its 501(c)(3) status, the Moore foundation has been able to partner with other organizations and community groups to sponsor fundraisers benefiting the schools. The biggest effort was an Adopt-a-Teacher program organized by some community leaders, which provided $2,000 for affected teachers, primarily at Briarwood and Plaza Towers, to purchase supplies for their temporary classrooms. During reconstruction, their schools are currently housed in Emmaus Baptist Church and a secondary building at Central Junior High School.
Because of the timeline for getting FEMA and insurance money in place and the restrictions of school purchase orders and fiscal year requirements, Hinkle said the district was concerned about giving teachers enough time to get supplies for their new classrooms.
“Through the Adopt-a-Teacher program, we were able to get money to those teachers immediately so they could start buying materials for their classes well before school started,” Hinkle said. “This gave them a jumpstart on making their classrooms as superb as they could be for those kids coming back. The last time those kids were in school was a very scary day, so we wanted to make it as welcoming as we could for them.”
The Moore foundation also partnered with the Pioneer Library System, which brought in nationally known children’s book illustrators for a fundraiser to benefit tornado-damaged school libraries. The event, titled “Drawn Together,” raised more than $20,000.
The foundation has worked hand-in-hand with new district Superintendent Robert Romines to plan the distribution of relief funds and ensure that funds are directed to the most critical needs. So far, the gifts have been designated to the Adopt-a-Teacher program and the reconstruction of the Central Junior High locker room. Remaining funds will be designated as needs become apparent.
Hinkle said he is grateful that, as a 501 (c)(3) organization, the Moore Public Schools Foundation had the capacity to “step in like a knight in shining armor” and help meet immediate needs. But their efforts wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of people in Oklahoma and around the country, he said. Throughout the recovery process, Hinkle said he has been reminded of the famous Mr. Rogers quote that in times of tragedy, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
For more information or to contribute to the Moore Public Schools’ tornado relief fund, visit the foundation website at mooreschools.com.