Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Authors to Oklahoma after the tornado

A year ago today, as no one needs reminding, a tornado struck Moore, OK, leveling two elementary schools (Briarwood and Plaza Towers) among, of course, many other buildings.

When I saw this heartbreaking graphic, I felt I had to try to do more than donate to the Red Cross.

Plaza Towers Elementary School, before and after

I wanted to replicate the moving kidlit author variety show we did for the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on 2/12/13.

On 5/22/13, I put out a similar call to authors I knew and as before, many responded ready to participate. With Sandy Hook, I asked authors within driving distance to make the logistics easier, but with Moore, I cast a nationwide net because I did not know any authors who lived nearby; we would all have to fly there.

The same day, I also emailed administrators in Moore, expressing condolences, keeping it short, and acknowledging that I understood that they had 1,000 more pressing priorities at the moment. I just wanted to slip our little offer into the mix early. I couldn’t get the emails from their district site; it (for the obvious sad reason) would not load.

On 5/27/13, I heard back from Moore: they were interested, and three principals had volunteered to head up the effort. I explained that this would be contingent on support from our publishers (and beyond; see below) and they understood.

When we discussed potential dates on 5/31/13, we had to cut it short because another bad storm was on the way in the Moore area. Luckily, it was not anywhere near the strength of the 5/20/13 monster.

On 6/7/13, we settled on 8/29/13 as the date—part of a positive back-to-school kickoff.

Then I set out to do something I never had to do before: secure corporate sponsorship. I couldn’t well invite a bunch of authors to shoulder the travel costs to get to OK; well, I could, and many would probably have been willing and able, but I felt it would be easier all around if I could go back to the authors with donated flights and hotel rooms to make the process more feasible.

As I explained in my pitch to airlines, the authors are donating time, we are asking our publishers to donate books and as much as they can toward travel expenses, and we are looking for an airline to donate our flights.

One hotel generously offered a couple of rooms—and you can imagine how many requests they got in the wake of the disaster—but we would be a group of at least 20. In any case, I didn’t get anywhere with airlines, though the one that did respond was kind. With heavy heart, I had to go back to the Moore principals and tell them that I was unable to pull it together. They could not have been more gracious about it, though I still felt horribly.

I have plenty of tricks to learn, but hope I won’t need them.

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