The amount of help that poured into the tornado-stricken Oklahoma City area from REALTOR® associations nationwide was “just incredible,” says Darla Cheek, government affairs director for the Oklahoma City Metro Association of REALTORS® (OKCMAR).
More than 50 REALTOR® associations contributed to the Oklahoma Housing Foundation REALTOR® Disaster Relief Fund (which stands at nearly $315,000) to aid affected residents, and nearly a dozen REALTOR® associations donated supplies.
“The Kansas City and the Joplin associations came back twice with trucks full of relief supplies,” says Cheek. Water, shovels, blankets, food, and clothing came from associations as far as Oregon and Florida and other associations sent thousands of dollars’ worth of gift cards so volunteers and residents could buy supplies.
The May tornados left 18 REALTORS® homeless and more than 500 people injured and 49 dead.
Kim Cox, CEO of the Ozark Gateway Association of REALTORS® in Joplin, Mo. (which weathered a catastrophic tornado in 2011), called OKCMAR to offer help and advice just hours after the twister stuck. “I couldn’t have gotten through this without their help,” says Cheek. “Kim said, ‘Help will come,’ but when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t think it will come. But it did.”
Tessa Hultz, of the Raleigh (N.C.) Regional Association of REALTORS®, was CEO of the Wichita Area Association of REALTORS® at the time of the tornado. She coordinated the deliveries and volunteers from REALTOR® associations across the country. Hultz launched a Facebook page where survivors and aid workers could post requests and volunteers would respond.
“We’d post a list of our needs on the Facebook page and truckloads would come,” says Cheek.
REALTOR® First Responders
“The day after the tornado struck in El Reno, Okla., we pulled our truck into the parking lot of the community center, set up as a shelter, and saw a family standing there and the kids had no shoes,” Cheek recalls. “We brought the first relief supplies there two days before the Red Cross arrived.”
The area no longer needs emergency relief supplies, says Cheek. “Everyone is in temporary housing, but what we’re worried about now is how we’re going to get people back in homes.” It is estimated that 41 percent of the affected residents did not have insurance.
There is no housing inventory to sell in the area and property loss is estimated at more than 1,150 homes, with total economic losses expected to exceed $5 billion.
“It’s going to be a long haul,” says Cheek. “Yet with all of the new building and rebuilding, I think we’re going to gain members. There is going to be a huge demand for REALTORS®.”