Ornaments Give Tornado Victims A Little Christmas Cheer

When a powerful tornado hit Moore, Okla., back in May, two dozen people died and more than a thousand homes were destroyed. In the aftermath, the first priorities were food, clothing, housing and furniture. Now a good Samaritan is providing Christmas tree ornaments, too.

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The people of Moore, Oklahoma are still living with the effects of a powerful tornado in May. The twister killed 25 people and destroyed more than a thousand homes. This holiday season, residents are reminded just how much they lost in that destruction. Kate Carlton of member station KGOU reports on one woman who's found a small way to make the holidays a bit more normal.

KATE CARLTON, BYLINE: On a recent Wednesday evening, Kim Rollins opened her home to strangers.

KIM ROLLINS: There's a bag to shop with. If you guys need any stockings? Do you have any?

CARLTON: Rollins makes handcrafted children's items which she sells on the Internet. On this night though, she walks a mother and daughter through her kitchen pointing our ornaments covering her table and countertops.

ROLLINS: There are some homemade ones and there's this one that has a cross with a frame that says bless this family 2013.

CARLTON: Each night, tornado victims stop by her house to browse through donated Christmas decorations, which she offers for free. Rollins started this drive three weeks ago after realizing how the tornado affected her own Christmas traditions.

ROLLINS: We lost a lot of our ornaments and I'm seeing on Facebook all these people posting pictures of their awesome trees and stuff, and it just kind of was depressing.

CARLTON: So Rollins took to Facebook and posted a question. Would people donate ornaments for survivors of the May 20th tornado who no longer had decorations?

ROLLINS: I had hundreds of emails, like hundreds of people responded, so I was pretty shocked. I just kind of thought a few people would get some ornaments and so I didn't expect all this.

CARLTON: And they weren't just from Oklahoma. She's received boxes of decorations from Florida and New York, Washington and Las Vegas. So far, Rollins has helped nearly 50 families trim their trees. One shopper, Amber Harris, lost half her home when the tornado hit Moore. She says ornaments are so important during Christmas because of what they represent.

AMBER HARRIS: It's a traditional thing. I mean, you have your special ornaments that your kids have made just as you were growing up, you know. You might have special ornaments from your parents that they gave you when you got your own house, and they're sentimental things.

CARLTON: Harris says losing all of that is hard for anyone, but it's especially difficult when the loss is combined with total devastation that comes with a tornado. She says being able to pick out new ornaments has helped.

HARRIS: It's special 'cause it came from somebody that had a purpose, you know, that purpose to make you feel like you're special again.

CARLTON: The ornaments are shipped to Emmaus Baptist Church, not far from the Tornado's path where Rollins is a parishioner. The church's associate pastor, Jim Lehew, says he's impressed by his community.

JIM LEHEW: It's little things like that that I see people really stepping up and helping to find a niche to be able to meet needs that families have and as different seasons approach, you realize what you don't have. And so there are people that are meeting those needs.

CARLTON: Rollins sees this too.

ROLLINS: People want to be giving, but they don't know what to do with it. So whenever somebody just asks for something specific and small, it's just, yeah, we can definitely get ornaments. I think that was the key here, is I just asked for something small and something meaningful and unique.

CARLTON: And Rollins is not only sprucing up Christmas trees across Moore; she's also helping connect homeowners with licensed contractors and finding groups to sponsor tornado survivors who don't have presents for Christmas. For NPR News, I'm Kate Carlton in Norman, Oklahoma.

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