A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Project Mom Conference in Oklahoma City. It was a wonderful conference full of knowledgeable, entertaining speakers, plus there were many fun events and activities. I met many moms from across the state and we chatted about our families, our jobs and our lives. Shower of Hope Oklahoma came up in conversation and I shared with some of the moms about this charity and some of the work that I've been doing. Many of the moms wanted to know, "What was your inspiration for creating Shower of Hope Oklahoma?" While helping the Hamil Family was the initial charitable endeavor, the true inspiration came from my two little boys. The 1-year anniversary of the creation of Shower of Hope Oklahoma is quickly approaching and I want to take this opportunity to share the story of how Shower of Hope Oklahoma came to be.
It was Sunday, May 22, 2011 and my husband and I were watching the nightly news. It was around 9:30PM and every news channel was covering the storms and tornadoes that ravaged Joplin, Missouri. News helicopters were hovering over many sites and buildings in Joplin, and while it was dark outside, you could already see the devastation. The scene was unreal. I remember watching the news the following morning on Monday, May 23, 2011 and again, the scene was simply unreal. There was so much destruction and many lives lost. While the Joplin tornado was the forefront of the newscast that morning, the severe weather moving into Oklahoma the following day took center stage. The weather forecaster was forecasting many severe storms and tornadoes for many parts of Oklahoma for May 24, 2011. With the Joplin tragedy so fresh in the media and in people's minds, the forecasters were strongly urging people to have a severe weather plan. Here in Oklahoma, often referred to as "Tornado Alley," we have many, many storm and tornado warnings. However, these storm warnings were definitely being taken seriously.
I spent Tuesday, May 24, 2011, doing my best to prepare for the severe weather expected to hit later in the day. I went to the store and bought candles, flashlights, batteries and bottled water. When I got home, I made sure all of our important legal documents were together, I packed a diaper bag for my two little ones, gathered pictures and put everything in the downstairs closet. My husband came home from work early that day and after dinner, my family of four gathered in the living room. While my then 9-month old and 2-year old played in the living room, my husband and I sat on the couch and began watching the news for weather updates. The majority of the state was being hammered by storms and there were numerous tornado sightings. Then, the tornado sirens came on and began blaring through the neighborhood. We immediately scooped up the boys and retreated to the closet underneath the staircase. My little family of four was tucked away in a closet and listened to the radio for weather updates as the rain and wind pounded our home. After about 15 minutes of taking shelter, the weather calmed down. We were blessed and fortunate enough to miss the tornadoes. Shortly after the storm had passed, my husband and I tucked our two little boys in bed, said bedtime prayers and watched our little ones fall asleep. We were all safe and sound.
The following day on May 25th, I saw and read reports of damage across many parts of the state. Many Oklahoma families lost their homes and possessions because of these horrific storms. Many communities were left beaten and bruised. That morning, I also heard the story of the Hamil Family from Piedmont, Oklahoma. Hank Hamil was away cutting and harvesting wheat out of state. His wife, Catherine Hamil, was at home in Oklahoma and took shelter with her 3 children during the May 24th storms. Tragically, a tornado ripped through their home. Catherine and her 5-year old daughter, Cathleen, survived, but were in critical condition. Catherine's 15-month old baby boy, Cole, succumbed to his injuries and her 3-year old son, Ryan, was missing. When I heard about the Hamil’s tragic story, I was left heartbroken. As a mommy, I couldn't even begin to imagine the immense pain and loss Catherine was experiencing. I immediately said a prayer for the Hamil Family and prayed that little Ryan was found.
On May 26th, I had just put my two little boys down for their morning naps. I logged onto Facebook and the first story that I saw was that the body of Ryan Hamil had been found. My heart just sank and I began to cry. I turned the computer monitor off and went to sit on the couch. As I sat there crying, I had a stirring in the pit of my stomach. A huge lump formed in my throat and face was becoming flush. I recognized this feeling as I have had it in the past. I felt God stirring my heart. It was as if God softly whispered to my spirit, "Toni, help this family." I distinctly remember having this inner dialogue... "God, I hear you and I know you want me to help, but what do I do? How can I possibly help them? I'm just a stay-at-home mom. I haven't worked in a year. What can I do? How can I possibly make a difference?"
I stared across my living room. There was a baby swing, a baby bouncer, a bottle and sippy cup in the corner, toy cars and trucks littered the floor. I thought of my little boys sleeping peacefully in the next room. My heart swelled with love for those precious boys. Those little boys of mine were and would continue to look to me as their example of compassion, generosity and charity. I felt stirred to do something. I felt compelled. I had to act. I would be obedient to what God wanted me to do. I was 30-years old and it was time to step-up to the plate and get off the sidelines. This was my opportunity to truly make a difference. All too often, we feel led to do or say something, yet we do nothing. I had been that person in the past and no longer wished to be that person anymore. I had to be an example to my little boys. They were counting on me.
I decided to collect baby and toddler items for Catherine's unborn baby girl. The Hamil's home was gone and any baby items saved from her other children were gone as well. My hope and desire was to "shower the Hamil Family with hope." I hoped the care packages and other items received would bless them and give them hope for their future. As I began creating the Facebook page, I remember praying that God's hands would be all over this endeavor. I wanted Him to bless it exceedingly and abundantly. Within 2 days of starting the Facebook page, I already had received pledges from many large companies that were committed to sending items for the family. Within a couple of weeks, 1,500+ people liked the Shower of Hope Oklahoma - Hamil Family Facebook page and were inquiring everyday as to how they could help. The outpouring of love, support and generosity was simply overwhelming. 2nd Corinthians 9:7 says, “God loves a cheerful giver”. Every company, family and individual who gave to Shower of Hope Oklahoma – Hamil Family demonstrated that cheerfulness. After several weeks of collecting and receiving donations and care packages for the Hamil Family, July 1st was our delivery day. You see pictures and read more about the delivery day to the Hamil Family here. It was a wonderful day and God surely blessed it.
Since helping the Hamil Family last year, Shower of Hope Oklahoma has been blessed to help other families in need as well. My desire is to continue helping Oklahoma families in need. I'm in awe of how fast this past year has gone. It's amazing to me that the 1-year anniversary of little Ryan and Cole's passing is quickly approaching. I pray that over the next several days, you'll continue to lift up the Hamil Family in prayer. I know this will be a tough time for them, and while they are continually pushing forward, there are still sad times as Ryan and Cole are so missed. I also ask that strive to be a person who gets off the sidelines. Be inspired and do something. You can be a world changer. You can make a difference.
Blessings To You,
Toni KeltnerShower of Hope Oklahoma