How combined efforts benefitted those in need
In anticipation of extreme frigid weather forecast for the area, Reverend Sheri Lashley of First United Methodist Church and Rose Lynch, Chair of the Okmulgee County Democratic Party, gathered Jan. 10 to discuss concern for the most needy in Okmulgee County.
Knowing the arctic sub-zero temperatures were heading to Okmulgee, they knew something had to be done.
Reaching out to Okmulgee County Emergency Management Director Jeff Moore, and Ken Anderson, City of Okmulgee Emergency Management Director, Rev. Lashley and Lynch invited the directors to meet to find out what policies or procedures were set in place for the city and county regarding emergency warming centers.
Since nothing was yet set in place by the county or city, Rev. Lashley and Lynch formed the Okmulgee County Emergency Warming Center.
Lynch reached out to The Red Cross who advised they could only commit to one space in the county, and because First United Methodist Church offered their Rowe Activity Center, the decision was made to have the county emergency center in Okmulgee.
It was then that Jeff Moore and Ken Anderson were needed to confirm the emergency warming center was needed so the Red Cross could release and donate the cots and blankets.
“Thanks to Bill Martin, Kevin Gaines, and Tommy Mchuen who put all 50+ cots together, making sure the blankets were available for anyone who showed up and had needs,” Lynch said.
Initially, the plan was to only be open for a few days, but as the weather forecast kept expanding on the days of sub-zero temperatures, the decision to extend the center was an easy one.
The Rowe Center was an ideal space as it had separate bathrooms with shower stalls, laundry capabilities, a commercial kitchen, and a large open activity center for cots, enough for 55 people.
“At the end of the week, we served over 60 people daily who needed showers, food, warm clothing, and a warm, safe place to stay until the weather broke,” Lynch said. “Many had broken water lines and only needed a shower, but stayed for one of our hot meals. Others living situations could not heat their homes sufficiently and needed a warm resting place. Many only came in for a hot meal, while many mentioned they knew they would not have made it through the weather. One of the guests said, ‘This is a place where kindness lives.’” “We knew the way to get the word out immediately about the need for donations of food, clothing, and volunteers was to utilize social media platforms of Facebook and Instagram,” Lynch said. “People reached out, inquiring how they might help. Pastor Chet Cottom and others went to various places where many unhoused people were living to let them know about the emergency warming center.”
Rev Lashley mentioned her gratitude for Rose Lynch.
“From beginning to end, Rose organized the event, gathered the volunteers, monitored the donations and supplies, supervised the guests, triaged those who needed help, and worked tirelessly to make sure all were safe, warm, and fed. She worked the full eight days and too many nights, supported by countless volunteers who came together to bring the love of community to those who needed it most. Her love for Okmulgee County was clear.”
“There is no way one person could have pulled all of this off without the immense support from Okmulgee County citizens who took time to donate, pray, volunteer, cook food, and offer services,” Lynch said. “There was a ripple effect of generosity from so many in our county.” Should this type of emergency happen again, Lynch mentioned she compiled data, stats, and lists of donors and volunteers to move quickly to help again.
Additionally, Lynch spoke of creating other emergency stations and wishes to look into helping our other towns in Okmulgee County set up emergency centers, neighbor reaching neighbor. “Okmulgee County rises when we lift others.”
Finally, Rev. Sheri Lashley and Rose Lynch wish to thank countless people, many wishing to remain anonymous. They both felt the need to mention many by name: A huge thanks to our volunteers: Dana and Bill Martin, Michelle Culp, John Hammond, Troy Fillmore, Elaine Gasaway, Helen Neigard, Robin FItzl, Katie Henley, Judy Mayhew, Paula and Eslick, Jeanette and Mike Taylor, Rae Thompson, Lyn and Gerald Miles, Terri Hebert, Linda and Gale Gerster, Willie Hoffman, Ashely Carnes, Misty VanWinkle, Ronnie Jones, Collis Jones, Nathan Dixon, Carol Smith, Dana and Steve Diamond, Charlie Peoples, Shelly and Jim O’mealy, Rosetta Hortman, Robert McDonald, Liz and Kevin Thompson, Belinda VanBuskirk, Diane Cockburn, Deanne and Randy Kindell, Amos Mccormick, Grant Griffon, Jason Been, Karen O’Neil, Barbara and Dale James, Sara Arnold, Linda Barksdale, Linda Evans, Lori Meyers, Pete Haugen and JD Wade.
Our many community churches, specifically: New Day Nazarene Church, Apostolic Church – United Apostolic Church, Calvary Baptist Church, Epic Church, St. Matthew’s Baptist Church, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, East Side Baptist Church, Jubilee Christian Center, St Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, First United Methodist Church, Okmulgee First Baptist, Henryetta First Baptist, Ladies of Liberty – Liberty Baptist Church, Okmulgee First Free Will Baptist Church and Okmulgee First United Methodist Church.
Businesses: Miss Mary’s Market, Cox Cashsavers, This and That Thrift Store, Randy’s Foods, First National Bank, Family First Credit Union, Dairy Queen, Henryetta Frisco Liquidation, Salvation Army and Red Cross.
Okmulgee councilmembers Marcus Jeffrey, Dr. Bill Bryant, Dawn Carter and Mickey Baldwin.
Okmulgee County Sheriff ’s Office, Okmulgee Police Department and Muscogee Nation Lighthorse.
Okmulgee County Democratic Party Chair Rosie Lynch, Okmulgee County Republican Chair, Marsheila Pryor, Okmulgee County Republican Vice Chair, Steve Diamond, Okmulgee Rotary and Henryetta Rotary.
“If you say you love Okmulgee, then you must love all her citizens. We cannot pick and choose.” Lynch mentioned her life motto is “We rise by lifting others.” This core belief played out as the devotion to help revealed how many were in need.
“We learned just how many Okmulgee County citizens desperately need connection to the various services available to our county,” Lynch said.
“Finally, Rev. Lashley and I are so incredibly thankful for all those who showed up to volunteer, to cook, to help be Hall Monitors, to pray, and to devote kindness to complete strangers. People say how much they miss the good ol’ days of Okmulgee, and I would like to say what people miss is the sense of community and the belonging we feel.
“This past week was a clear demonstration of community. It doesn’t matter what church you do or don’t belong to, what political party you identify with, or what organization you work with. What truly matters is connecting and being a community.”
For all of that, Rev. Lashley and Rose Lynch are both deeply thankful.