May 20, 2013, the city of Moore, Oklahoma and the surrounding area was struck by a deadly tornado killing dozens and injuring hundreds. The EF4 tornado (the second largest strength on the Fujita Scale used by the National Weather Service to determine severity) produced a wall of destruction that engulfed whole subdivisions, a hospital, and two schools, Plaza Towers Elementary and Briarwood Elementary. Tragically, seven children lost their lives at Plaza Towers due to the natural disaster. This tornado struck as school was ending which forced teachers, staff, and children to cover themselves in hallways, listening to the damage occur around them with little time to prepare themselves for the destruction around them.
“Almost immediately, we heard a horrible rumble… I looked up and saw open sky… [the] roof was gone. I looked around further and saw a car dangling over my teacher desk…It then started raining and what I thought was hail, was really debris flying around.”-Sheryl Johnson, Briarwood Elementary Teacher
Most schools in Oklahoma do not contain tornado shelters, but rather hallways and lower level basement rooms. Most schools, rebuilt after the 58 tornadoes ripped through the Great Plains on May 3, 1999, now contain a designated tornado shelter to keep the children safe. May 3rd is a historic date for Oklahomans as they watched an EF5 mile wide tornado rip through nearly the same location as the schools in Moore 13 years later. The Plaza Towers School, located in what is commonly known as “tornado alley,” did not contain a shelter. Teachers were found hovered over their students protecting them from falling debris. All supplies were lost, but hope was not. Oklahoma began the rebuilding process quickly.
Students at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York hosted a bake sale to raise funds for Give More HUGS to support Plaza Tower Elementary. During this fundraiser 100 scholastic books were signed with inspirational messages by students and teachers which were then sent to The Plaza Towers Elementary School.
As rebuilding occurred, GMH reached out to the many teachers at the schools to get feedback on what they needed the most. They requested several school supplies, resources, and more to help restock their classrooms. GMH partnered with several organizations (Angelo State University’s Educator Preparation Information Center, Teacher Store, University of Texas at Permian Basin, and Energy Fabrication) to host school supplies drives to collect the much needed items. All donations were presented the teachers and were received just in time for the new school year. The excitement from the teachers and students is what makes our work so powerful. It is GMH’s mission help those in need and we will continue to provide support to the people of Moore.