Business Community Gives Millions to Oklahoma Tornado Relief

An "OPEN" sign is all that remains of this convenience store in Moore, Okla., the Oklahoma City suburb devastated by a tornado on May 20, 2013.
An “OPEN” sign is all that remains of this convenience store in Moore, Okla., the Oklahoma City suburb devastated by a tornado on May 20, 2013.

Corporations across America have loosened their purse strings to aid victims of the recent tornado that left a path of destruction across central Oklahoma.

In an effort to begin repairing the damage that President Barack Obama characterized as “hard to comprehend,” around 75 companies have pledged more than $24 million to relief efforts. Twelve companies, including Chesapeake Energy, Love’s Travel Stops, and NBA franchise the Oklahoma City Thunder, have pledged $1 million or more in cash and resources.

“The business community is committed to doing what it can to help in relief efforts,” said Gerald McSwiggan of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Business Civic Leadership Center, the nonprofit that is tracking corporate donations to the relief efforts.

“Many businesses have already offered support, and we anticipate that they, along with others, will continue to provide aid to various nonprofits throughout the disaster’s relief and recovery phases,” added McSwiggan.

The three-mile-wide tornado that struck Moore, Newcastle, and southern Oklahoma City on May 20 reached wind speeds of over 200 miles per hour, tearing through 17 miles of homes, schools, and businesses. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office has reported that 24 people were killed, including 10 children.

“This tragedy has touched us on a very personal level,” said Mary Wong, president of the Office Depot Foundation, the charitable arm of the eponymic office supply chain. “Office Depot has half a dozen stores in the Oklahoma City area, including one in Moore that was narrowly missed by the tornado.

“We are grateful that the store was not damaged, but a tragedy of this magnitude clearly has an impact on our associates and our customers throughout the region,” added Wong, whose foundation is giving $20,000 to Feed the Children and $5,000 to the Central Oklahoma Humane Society for immediate relief efforts.

Of the companies giving more than $1 million, perhaps Oklahoma City-based Love’s Travel Stops felt the damage most acutely. The company, which operates 63 stores in Oklahoma, including several in close proximity to the destruction path, announced a $3 million donation to support the immediate and long-term relief efforts.

“Our company has been ingrained in the fabric of Oklahoma since 1964. Our hearts are saddened by the news of this tragedy affecting so many of our friends and neighbors,” said Tom Love, chairman and chief executive officer.

Chesapeake Energy Corporation, also headquartered in Oklahoma City, pledged $1 million in cash and is organizing hundreds of employees to help in the relief efforts.

“We are providing all possible assistance using Chesapeake equipment, machinery and resources and many of our people are already mobilized… and assisting in the rescue efforts,” Archie W. Dunham, who chairs the oil and natural gas company’s board of directors.

Donors are increasingly using mobile devices to lend aid to disaster relief efforts.
Donors are increasingly using mobile devices to lend aid to disaster relief efforts.

Individuals are also lending support to the relief efforts, increasingly by using cell phones to text donations. Mobile giving provider mGive, which lets users make small donations to charities by texting words like “DONATE” and “DISASTER” to five-digit numbers, has (up to the date of this post) raised more than $4.1 million in relief aid for nearly a dozen charities. Donations range from $10 to $25, meaning there have been between 164k and 410k individuals who have donated, says Andrea Schafer, a PR rep for mGive.

“Officials say the recovery from this disaster will top $3 billion and mobile donations give everyone the ability to help make a difference when we see the devastation in people’s lives from a tragedy like this,” said Jenifer  Snyder, executive director of the mGive Foundation.

“The most important thing to remember is that each one of us has the ability to help someone in need with four easy clicks on the mobile device that’s probably at our fingertips all day long,” added Snyder. “We can all be everyday philanthropists, saving the world one text at a time.”

While mGive is a well-regarded service, handling around 85 percent of all mobile donations, potential donors have been warned to be wary of text-donation scams that have sprung up in the tornado’s wake.

“Scammers show no charity, even when it comes to cheating communities and individuals who lost so much in this storm,” said Kim Garner, senior vice president of global security and investigations for MoneyGram, a leading money transfer company. “There are real charities doing good work for the affected communities, but if a charity asks for a donation by money transfer, it’s likely a scam.

“As a rule, never send a wire transfer to someone you don’t know, because once the money is sent, it’s gone for good,” she added.

[Image credits: State Farm, Flickr; I Am Adam, Flickr]

Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, TriplePundit, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens

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