What Are Atheists Doing for the Victims of the Oklahoma Tornado?

Comedian Doug Stanhope‘s Indiegogo campaign to raise money for Rebecca Vitsmun (whose exchange with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer went viral) has more than doubled it’s target goal, raking in over $100,000.

Vitsmun has pledged to donate the funds she doesn’t need to a non-profit organization that will benefit other victims.

But what about everybody else who needs help?

Members of the FreeOK atheist group gathered over the weekend to help out those who needed wreckage removed from their property, as Kai Tancredi reports:

FreeOK, the organization hosting the Oklahoma Freethought Convention, put together a volunteer drive on Facebook, uniting individuals primarily from the OKC and Tulsa areas in an effort to assist victims of Sunday’s storms in Shawnee and Bethel Acres. Among this group of 42 volunteers were members of the Atheist Community of Tulsa, Oklahoma Atheists, a few Christians and some unaffiliated, good-hearted people who, through this one day of kindness, connected for a humanist cause and not a word either way regarding God was uttered.

A ‘thank you’ sign left by one of the residents whose property the atheists helped clear (Kai Tancredi)

When the property owner asked for a group photo, the resulting scene between Christian and atheist volunteers was not all that unexpected:

Anyway, one of the members called [volunteer Stephanie] aside and told her that she was with a group of atheists, that they were going somewhere else and that she should leave with them. Stephanie replied; ‘No. I’ve been with this group of people all day, I’m here to help and so are they.” The Assembly member then responded, ‘but you’re a Christian,’ indicating the cross she wore around her neck. Stephanie said, ‘Yes I am and I’m staying with them. I’m helping here. We are here to help, not judge.’”

I love that — when we’re in crisis mode, there’s no reason we can’t work together with people toward a common goal. There’s a time to set aside our differences, and this was obviously one of them… at least, for the atheists.

After this photo was taken, the members of the Freedom Assembly of God left the site in order to prevent working alongside the atheists present (Kai Tancredi)

FreeOK helped in other ways, too:

They teamed with Panera Bread and Krispy Kreme to get breakfast to cemetery clean-up volunteers with Frontline Church in Moore, and to volunteers working through the Moore Community Center in the first week of response. They will continue to host volunteer drives in the outlying areas needing assistance in the coming weeks, like many local church organizations. The Red Dirt Party Bus, also owned by a secularist, has been used to run bulk donations around OKC and to distribution centers like the famously generous Grandad’s Bar on NW 23rd in OKC and out to Shawnee and Bethel Acres.

You can read more about the volunteers’ journey here.

Incidentally, Foundation Beyond Belief has raised over $40,000 for Operation USA and The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, two groups that will help people of all faiths and no faith. It’s not too late to donate, and the people of OK could still use your help.

(Thanks to Andrew for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Ryan Jean

    There’s a time to set aside our differences, and this was obviously one of them… at least, for the atheists.

    And, importantly, for at least some of the Christians. The volunteer mentioned, Stephanie, should be recognized for standing up to the bigotry of some of the other Christians present there in order to do, to use one of my favorite Humanist phrases, “good for goodness’ sake.”

  • RayM

    Freedom Assembly of God. Sometimes I wish my brain wouldn’t automatically see acronyms…

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

    I’ll bet they write the initials out as F.A.O(h jesus we are idiots aren’t we).G.

  • Tel

    Atheists Giving Aid has raised about $20,000, too. It’s brilliant.

  • McCowan

    If you have seen Doug Stanhope’s act you would realize this is such a strange weird idea for him. And yet in character. A real dichotomy. I also contributed for a selfish reason. I wanted a copy of the Gideon’s bible Doug promised me when I next stay at a hotel. I hope that Doug autographs it for me.

  • Philip Kizer

    A good friend of mine has family that was harmed by the tornado in OK and the local groups are chipping in to help. Here’s the message posted to the local forums:

    Cheryl, a regular at the Tuesday night Dallas/Plano meetup, has a brother in law that needs help. Please considering giving, even if just a little, to help this family who was struggling financially before the tornado hit. Donate button on her blog.


    [Edited 2013-05-30 14:02 US/Central to replace the image with the one where EH is being pulled from the rubble.]

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Or leave one of the words out of the initials: Freedom A/G

  • http://www.dougberger.net Doug B.

    It is good that atheists are helping anyone who needs help

  • JNWesner

    Our local Humanist group did a survey recently to see if we were acting as volunteers. Although our association doesn’t sponsor any particular effort, our members have donated thousands of hours to various areas of need. We just don’t paint our name on a truck and wear t-shirts saying who we are.