I didn’t grow up in Woodward, Okla.
I moved there as a young adult to be editor of a local newspaper.
I married one of her sons and the community welcomed me and let me call her my home. Half my life has been spent there. My family is still there.
Now tragedy and devastation, brought on by a massive tornado, have knocked my adopted hometown to her knees. And, 150 miles away, it’s ripping my heart out of my chest to see her pain, her loss, her despair.
Our friends and neighbors are trying to salvage rain-soaked wedding pictures and keepsakes that can’t be replaced. They are picking up, cleaning up, clothing their children and helping themselves.
They will get through this — together. Because they are tough and they’re strong and they have faith, and each other.
But today — before Woodward has even had a chance to bury her dead — we hear that crooks and thieves are preying on her people’s misfortune and confusion. People impersonating federal disaster workers are contacting Woodward tornado victims and soliciting money — lying that it’s a part of the process. I can’t even put into words what that makes me want to do.
Woodward is a strong, independent community of good, honest, hardworking people. Woodward, Okla., is the heart of the oil field and the wind industry. Much of the world’s iodine is extracted from the earth there, just north of town.
This community’s people are farmers and ranchers, educators, professionals, public servants and manual laborers. They are Hometown, America.
They don’t ask for anything and they are ready to give and give and give.
Be at Woodward when a child is lost or a house burns or a family needs a roof or a meal or a gift for a child at Christmas. You will know in an instant you have been allowed into a special place. This is a community that doesn’t know how to take.
And now, after Mother Nature has taken so much, shameless people with no conscience are swooping in at the town’s weakest moment and trying to take the little bit its storm victims have left.
A country singer from Woodward crooned a few decades back that the people in Northwest Oklahoma are the salt of the earth. Heck, I don’t even know what that means. But I know it’s a good thing. And those good people are battered and hurting. They are looking back on huge losses and looking ahead to enormous struggle.
We can’t take back what has changed their world, but we can help them through it. If your heart calls you to donate to Woodward’s tornado victims, do it through a reputable organization, like your church or your civic club or the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. If you donate through a relief organization, make sure you designate the money is intended for the tornado victims in Woodward County and Northwest Oklahoma. Bank of Western Oklahoma in Woodward, 580-254-5525, is overseeing a tornado relief fund to take monetary donations.
But if you or anyone you know is even thinking about reaching out to these folks in a way that is anything less than charitable, honest, helpful and sincere, let me paraphrase the video that thunders across the JumboTron at Boone Pickens Stadium when our Oklahoma State Cowboys take the field.
If you hurt my homefolks, I’m coming for you.
And Hell’s ridin’ with me.
J.B. Blosser Bittner is editor of the Stillwater, Okla., NewsPress, a sister paper to The Joplin Globe. The Woodward News is also a sister paper to The Joplin Globe.
I didn’t grow up in Woodward, Okla.
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