The Long Haul: La Jolla couple drives supplies to Oklahoma for tornado victims
Gate Church (household items and clothing): 7700 North Council Road, Oklahoma City, Okla., 73132
Salvation Army: Make checks to Salvation Army Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 2536 Oklahoma City, Okla. (designate Oklahoma Tornado Relief on all checks) or donate $10 to the effort by texting STORM to 80888.
By Pat Sherman
Like many across the country, longtime La Jolla residents Gordon and Maureen Dunfee watched with sadness and disbelief as news crews reported on the devastation in Moore, Okla.
On Monday, May 20, a 1.3-mile-wide tornado ripped through the rural community, killing 24 people and injuring nearly 400 others.
Four days later, the Dunfees were on the road, headed for Oklahoma in a 20-foot U-Haul truck loaded with food, water, medical supplies, clothing and other items for the victims.
“The reception was just incredible,” said attorney Gordon Dunfee, who made the more than 2,600-mile, round-trip trek with his wife.
The couple arrived early Saturday morning, May 25, delivering more than 300 boxes of supplies to a relief effort centered at the Gate Church in South Oklahoma City (which borders Moore).
“There were probably 40 people there, maybe more, singing ‘America the Beautiful’ and waving flags,” Gordon said. “They were so excited and so thankful.”
Gordon gives the bulk of credit to a group of San Diego military wives (and their families) know as the Murphy Canyon Mamas, who began soliciting donations for the victims via Facebook shortly after the tornado struck. The Dunfees saw a televised report on the Mamas’ efforts and reached out to assist.
Under the leadership of former Oklahoman and Navy wife, Melanie Coffey-Voss, and Marine Corps wife, Diana Noschang, the Mamas and their volunteers filled the Dunfees’ truck with clearly labeled supplies.
After spending their first night of the journey in Flagstaff, Ariz., the Dunfees drove straight through to Oklahoma.
After delivering their supplies, the Dunfees headed to Moore, accompanied by a young Navy woman named Gabby Jackson, whose grandparents’ home was destroyed. The couple spent the entire day and part of the next helping Jackson’s grandparents and their neighborhood sort through the debris, salvage belongings and clear pathways.
“It was just horrific to see the destruction and the power of nature,” Gordon said. “As far as you could see the community was leveled. It’s really just an absolute, stunning miracle that more people weren’t killed.”
Though Maureen Dunfee said she experienced several earthquakes growing up in California, nothing prepared her for what she saw in Moore.
“We drove through the streets of a neighborhood and all the houses were perfectly fine, and as you drove closer to where Gabby’s grandparents’ house was, there was absolutely nothing left — just smashed cars. What used to be houses were just piles of bricks and sticks.
“I was telling Gordon that it made me think of the story of the ‘Three Little Pigs,’ where the big bad wolf just huffed and puffed and blew everything down. It was just surreal.”
Still, the couple said the unexpected road trip turned out to be the most fulfilling weekend of their lives.
“We were just a minuscule part of the relief effort, but the amount of gratitude was just overwhelming,” Gordon said.
Nearly everyone the couple came into contact with knew someone who had lost their homes or a loved one in the disaster, including several Gate Church members whose children died when Plaza Towers Elementary School was destroyed.
Miraculously, “There wasn’t any feeling of despair or depression or of bitterness,” Gordon said, noting the Oklahomans’ resiliency and faith in God. “It was all just this kind of pioneer attitude about things that are thrown at you — you deal with it the best you can and you move through it. Their understanding and kind of empathizing with what they were going through was probably the biggest gift we got for our work and our efforts.”
Michelle McGhee, assistant volunteer director with the Gate Church, said the efforts of the Murphy Canyon Mamas and Gordon and Maureen Dunfee were greatly appreciated.
“Oklahoma is very patriotic, so it really did mean a lot to have the military wives participate,” McGhee said, noting that the pre-sorted and labeled boxes took a lot of the “guess work” out of the process.
Since the Dunfees’ trip, nine more people have been killed in tornadoes and subsequent flooding that swept through Oklahoma on May 31. The dead include two children and seven adults.
Relief items and monetary donations are still needed and can be sent directly to the Gate Church. In the coming weeks, victims will require everything from furniture to household goods and toiletries.
“Our efforts are ongoing,” McGhee said. “We’re in it for the long haul.”
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