Courtesy: Linda Copeland/Sequoyah County Times The Sequoyah County Homebuilders Association is sponsoring a coat, sweater, and shoe drive. Items can be dropped off at Sallisaw Lumber Co., and at First Assembly of God in Sallisaw. Association members are, from the left, Pat Kennedy, secretary; Jarrett Hetherington; Dusty Riggs; and Rich Looper, president.
By Henry Dolive,Special to the Sequoyah County Times
Despite the continuing economic doldrums and construction of new homes at a virtual standstill, local home builders are trying to help needy families and give back to the community by providing warm outer clothing this Christmas.
The Greater Sequoyah County Chapter of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association launched a drive this month seeking donations of gently used or new shoes, coats and sweaters for children as well as adults.
Fliers are being circulated throughout Sallisaw, the Sequoyah County seat. Drop-off points have been set up at Sequoyah Lumber, 301 W Cherokee Ave., and the First Assembly of God, 514 W Cherokee Ave.
The home builders association plans to distribute the donated items from noon to 6 p.m. Dec. 23 at the First Assembly of God, where association president Rich Looper attends.
Looper, owner of Looper Quality Homes in Sallisaw and president of the local home builders association, said the organization hopes to assist up to 50 families with the Christmas clothing drive.
"Even though building may be down, the Spirit of the season causes us to focus on others. We may build houses, but we also want to help build spirits," said Looper.
Sequoyah County has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the state, according to stats released this month.
"So many people can't afford coats for their families," Looper said. "We believe there is a great need for this. A lot of people have switched jobs and, if it were not for the oil and gas industry, there would be no jobs for anyone right now."
He said he hopes Sallisaw residents will respond to the clothing drive generously, either by donating warm clothing items they no longer can use or purchasing new items. "Any contributions will be greatly appreciated," he said.
Figures released in early December by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission put Sequoyah County's unemployment rate for October at 8.4 percent. While down from 9.2 percent in September, it still ranks as the fifth-highest jobless rate in Oklahoma.
Looper said that due to the slow economy, home construction around Sallisaw has lagged badly the past three years. Builders organized their association in 2009 with optimism about new-home construction prospects in Oklahoma. But then came the recession with its negative effects on Oklahoma and soon brought home construction to a standstill.
"Bad timing, I guess," Looper said.
Using his own business as an example, Looper said he has been able to find some reconstruction work in Shawnee and in Mena, Ark. following devastating tornadoes around those cities. Otherwise, he said, his business the past three years has consisted of building two cabins (in Tahlequah) and one house.
Looper said the good news is that the home builders association, formed with 10 members, has held together through the hard times and remains strong.
"We've added a few members and lost a couple," he said, and the organization recently became a member of the Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce. Membership benefits in the home builders association include information on national trends, existing and proposed rules and regulations and reduced rates for workers compensation, liability and health insurance.
This year marks the local association's first effort at sponsoring a clothing drive, and Looper is hoping that the Christmas push will help provide something positive in an otherwise difficult period locally.