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Seminole Tribe of Florida embraces Oklahoma tornado victims

Tornadodrive01Within days of Oklahoma’s  devastating tornadoes in May, dozens of disaster relief collection boxes peppered Seminole reservations at schools, offices and casinos.

By June 7, pallets loaded with water, hygiene items, diapers, clothing, linens and more blanketed the floor at a Hollywood Reservation warehouse. The items were shipped via truck to Oklahoma City University for distribution to survivors of the storms that killed more than 40 people and left thousands homeless.

Robert Caruso, the Tribe’s Education program manager, said the Tribalwide effort began with a phone call.

“On every reservation, when help is needed, the people respond,” Caruso said.

Immokalee Education adviser Victoria Soto told Caruso that a student’s parent raised the idea to begin collecting goods. Almost at the same time, Big Cypress Education adviser Sara Leace spoke up for students who wanted to gather and send relief supplies.

With permission granted and fliers printed, the Tribe’s Education advisers, recruiters and students pitched in from Hollywood, Brighton and other Seminole communities. Soon, managers and staff from all Seminole gaming locations were on board.

Dawn Neils, director of Brand Marketing at Seminole Gaming, said all casinos staged collection locations. At the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, goods included 180 pounds of non-perishables, 14 cases of diapers, 16 cases of water and a hefty mix of baby bottles, toilet paper and medical gloves.

Two pallets of goods came from the Seminole Casino Immokalee and Seminole Casino Coconut Creek.

Joseph Santiago, a Seminole Gaming truck driver based at Coconut Creek, hustled through the day on June 6 to pick up goods from several reservations for delivery to Hollywood.

“It’s hard work but it’s good work,” Santiago said.

Caruso said the Education advisers “led the charge” but everyone worked together as a team.

Chairman James E. Billie’s office donated an entire pallet of water. In Big Cypress, Councilman Mondo Tiger’s office gave 30 boxes of laundry detergent, tooth brushes, body soap and other toiletries. At Seminole Casino Immokalee, Human Resources recruiter Teo Alviar wheeled cart loads of infant care items to the truck.

“Why did we do this? Because everyone goes through something in life when they need someone else to lean on – whether we’re dealing with a terrible storm or Sept. 11,” Caruso said. “It’s a little effort on our part, but it goes a long way.”