Islanders opened their hearts for the Oklahoma tornado victims this past week with many donations.
Stonegate Bank Pine Island Office Vice President Elsie Stearns said the response they have received from the community is wonderful.
"Some have gone shopping to purchase new and others have brought in clean towels they no longer need," she said. "The islanders that have been coming in are so happy to be able to contribute. Once again, the island responds with open hearts."
Holding donations that the community has provided for the Oklahoma tornado relief efforts are, back row, Scarlett Player, Fran Snyder and Wanda Downer; and, front row, Elsie Stearns and Rebecca Rose
Stonegate Bank and the Beacon of H.O.P.E. partnered to collect supplies for the victims of the tornado that took place May 20, in Moore, Okla.
The collection of items began Tuesday, May 21 and will wrap up on Tuesday, June 4. Such items as small bath towels, wash cloths and bath soaps were donated for the assembly of emergency hygiene kits.
Beacon of H.O.P.E. Students Achieving Success Coordinator Rebecca Rose said those kits are being sent to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
"They have two depots for emergency relief, one in Louisiana and one in Utah," she said, which is organized by volunteers. "These kits are sent out to communities in crisis, both nationally and internationally. I learned about this organization from Pastor Edward (Kellum). UMCOR was one of the first relief organizations at ground level distributing to health, hygiene and clean-up kits to the families in Moore."
Everything that is sent to UMCOR goes directly to the crisis relief.
"If you write a check, please write 'Oklahoma' on the bottom of the check with advance number 901670 and it will all be forwarded to the relief effort there, 100 percent of it," Rose said.
She said she watched the news about the tornado in Oklahoma in shock and heartbreak, just as everyone else did, praying for the families and children in Moore.
Instead of sitting still, she put a plan in action to help those in need.
She contacted Beacon of H.O.P.E. Executive Director Betsy Haesemyer, Stearns and Pine Island United Methodist Church Pastor Edward Kellum before 7 a.m.
"They each responded immediately," Rose said. "These are three individuals that don't stop helping others, even in their sleep."
Others jumped on board as well, Louise Fischer typed up a bulletin that went out to the community, Rose's friend Sheli, who is a youth director, suggested that the youth put the emergency kits together and Beacon volunteer Linda Bradley tied some of the washcloths and soaps together in little packages with ribbons.
"So we organized this together as a team," Rose said. "That's how we do things out here on Pine Island."
Her inspiration to help others stemmed from a memorial service she attended for a Pine Island resident last year who had undergone several amputations during his life, which included a hemicorporectomy - complete amputation below the waist.
"I learned at his memorial service that in the days following Hurricane Charley, he had gone around on this platform that had been made for him fitted with skateboard wheels and helped clear debris from his neighbors yards," she said. " He couldn't remove very heavy tree limbs because it would have weighed down the wheels and he wouldn't have been able to scoot around, but he was able to bundle up twigs and fallen branches and helped clean up the yards."
A quote that was made by him has stuck with her, "I lost two feet and two legs and most of my body. But I have gained so many hands, and so many feet from so many friends here on Pine Island that I have lost count and so because of my friends, and because of my God, I am whole. I am a whole man."
Rose said individuals can help in different ways, regardless of their age or economic status.
"For us here on Pine Island, that doesn't just mean on island parameters," she said. "Our reach goes beyond the Matlacha bridge, into the Cape and to the world."
Many residents placed items in the big basket that is located at Stonegate Bank after the word got out about the cause.
"The community has responded so generously," Rose said. "We can think about the people who will be receiving these items, and how nice we know it feels to take a warm shower and have a soft clean towel and a fresh bar of soap to bathe with."
She said she is proud to live in a community whose neighbors include those with different ZIP codes or city names.
"We are a small island, but we have a big heart and a big reach," Rose said. "We are still collecting things for one more week and then the kids will start assembling everything together. We plan to bring the boxes to the post office right after that."
She said she would like to thank Stonegate Bank and the Beacon of H.O.P.E. for organizing and coordinating the relief effort, as well as everyone who has donated something.
"Thank you for being great neighbors," Rose said.