Firefighter's personal experience inspires shoe box donation drive

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Today is the last day to help send toiletry items to Oklahoma tornado victims through the Columbia Fire Department.

The department began collecting shoe boxes filled with the items this past Friday after a Columbia firefighter suggested the idea.

Engineer Gregory Walker of Station 30 in Columbia says it was his own personal experience with the devastation of a tornado that made him want to collect the items. Walker says many of his family members lost everything they owned in the tornados that swept through Birmingham and Tuscaloosa in April of 2011.

Walker says seeing the images from the recent disaster in Moore brought back the memories."It was devastating, very devastating," said Walker. "I've seen the folks crying, and I also experienced the traumatic stress that they are feeling. Right now I know that they could use the help and whatever we're able to donate from Columbia and send to them."

The department is collecting shoe boxes (or boxes of a similar size) filled with shampoo, bars of soap, cans of shaving cream, toothbrushes, toothpastes, hair brushes, combs, lotion, tissues, deodorant and women's sanitary products. Walker says it's the basic needs that help make a difference. "Especially if you've got a lot of stores and stuff that are wiped out also, so that's why they need the deodorant, the soap.. the toothpaste."

Walker says he just got back from visiting family in Birmingham and their community is still recovering. "It's rebuilding, but very slow, a very slow process," said Walker. "I'm pretty sure [the community of Moore] is going to have the same process as it is in Birmingham, but they'll rebuild. It just takes time."

The fire department was originally also asking for donations of bottled water. However, fire officials say the fire chief in the City of Moore, OK says they have been inundated with donations of bottled water so they are no longer needed.

You can drop off a shoebox donation at any City fire station until 6 o'clock tonight. Columbia Fire Department's headquarters are located at 1800 Laurel Street in Downtown Columbia.

A volunteer has donated his time to drive the shoe box donations down to Moore in a donated 18-wheeler. Fire officials say the volunteer plans to deliver the donations this weekend.