Community rallies behind disaster relief trip

The EF5 tornado that hit Moore, Okla. May 20 leveled block after block of houses. (Photos submitted)

The EF5 tornado that hit Moore, Okla. May 20 leveled block after block of houses. (Photos submitted)

FL banker helps bring supplies to tornado-ravaged city

 

The local relief team embarks on its journey. Forest Lake banker Kelly Appel, center, is flanked by her friends Devin Geisler, left, and Mindy Woods. In back is Appel’s boyfriend, Brian DeNucci. (Photo submitted)

The local relief team embarks on its journey. Forest Lake banker Kelly Appel, center, is flanked by her friends Devin Geisler, left, and Mindy Woods. In back is Appel’s boyfriend, Brian DeNucci. (Photo submitted)

Clint Riese
News Editor

Five days after the awesome power of an EF5 tornado ravaged Moore, Okla., the inspirational power of the human heart was on display through the efforts of a disaster relief team from this area.

Kelly Appel, a senior personal banker at Lake Area Bank in Forest Lake, her boyfriend and two friends brought a truck and trailer full of supplies to the Oklahoma City suburb.

The impromptu, Memorial Day weekend trip stemmed from a Facebook post of Appel’s, expressing a desire to help with the storm’s aftermath in Oklahoma. Five years ago, Appel helped friends in Hugo recover from a tornado.

Her boyfriend, Brian DeNucci, responded to her post with a simple message: “Let’s go.”

In short order, the Frederic, Wis., couple was joined by friends Devin Geisler of Pine City and Mindy Woods of Cumberland, Wis. Geisler volunteered her truck and lined up the free use of a 16-foot trailer. On Wednesday, May 22, each team member began collecting donations in their town of business: Appel in Forest Lake; DeNucci in Baldwin, Wis.; Geisler in Grantsburg, Wis.; and Woods in Siren, Wis.

“It was just incredible,” Appel said. “Two and a half days, the amount of donations we got was amazing. We had planned on paying for everything out of our own pocket: gas, food, tolls. We didn’t have to because we got so many donations. People gave us cash.”

That Friday, the group took off work to sort and pack the donations by category. Both the truck and trailer were filled to capacity when they hit the road that afternoon.

“We never expected it to get to the extent that we did,” said Appel, noting that Forest Lake Elementary and the Ranger football team even got involved. “We were just blessed with people that care. People I didn’t know were dropping stuff off. … Just unbelievable, the big hearts people have.”

The travelers stopped at 3 a.m. at a hotel in Joplin, Mo., where an EF5 twister hit in 2011. By 8:30 a.m. they were back on the road. They searched the Internet for potential drop-off sites and ended up at the Christian Community Center in Moore. The gravity of the situation there began to sink in at the second stop, a pet rescue center where they took dog food and supplies. About 150 animals were unclaimed and people needed to wear layers of protective garments around the animals due to disease and bacteria.

Then came a trip to Moore’s hardest-hit area, where block after block of houses were leveled.

“I’ve seen tornadoes before, but not that level of devastation,” Appel said.

After staying the night with friends 80 miles away, the local crew returned to Moore Sunday morning to give out the last of their donations. However, they had trouble finding a place that would accept the blankets and tools. Finally, after communicating with police, they dropped the items in a semitrailer serving as a makeshift donation point.

The trip also included the donation of $895 to the Salvation Army and $1,205 to the Red Cross.

While passing through Iowa on the way back, the group came upon a wall cloud and noticed tails coming down from it. The volunteers were glad to return home at 4 a.m. on Memorial Day.

In the weeks since, Appel has reflected on the trip’s meaning. She continues to be overwhelmed by the community’s support and the web of involvement the trip created.

“I think the neatest thing is that it didn’t only affect the people that we helped, it affected other people here,” Appel said. “Just the ripple effect of people emailing me saying, ‘It really made me take a look at myself and my volunteer activities and focus on what I really need to be doing going forward.’ It just affected so many people. It was a great experience, one that we’ll never forget, and we couldn’t think of a better way to spend our Memorial Day weekend.”

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