LAWRENCE — An estimated 2,000 women have signed up to join Kansas Moms Demand Action since the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school mass shooting last week, organizers with the group say.
Bolstered by the surge in membership, Kansas Moms Demand Action and its chapters across the state held blood and donation drives Friday to commemorate National Gun Awareness Day.
The chapters are part of a nationwide grassroots movement dedicated to fighting gun violence. Kansas Moms Demand Action wants to remind people that Kansas is not exempt from gun violence, as evidenced by the Olathe East High School shooting and a shooting in Wichita at the Towne East Mall earlier this year.
“I think there’s a lot of energy right now,” said Katy Tyndell, who helped launch the Wichita Moms Demand Action group in 2016 and is an active volunteer. “People are looking for ways to take action, and Moms (Demand Action) has been one of the answers.”
Events associated with National Gun Awareness Day are being held in conjunction with Wear Orange. National Gun Awareness Day and the Wear Orange weekend overlap to raise awareness against gun violence and demand action.
Wear Orange is observed annually in June to commemorate a victim of gun violence, Hadiya Pendleton, who would have turned 18 years old on June 2, 2015. Pendleton’s friends chose to wear orange to signify the color hunters wear to protect themselves.
A study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine found that gunshot victims require 10 times more blood than other blood loss related traumas. Because of this and the urgent need for blood supply nationwide, the Moms Demand Action groups in Salina and Wichita partnered with American Red Cross for blood drives on Friday in participation with the Wear Orange weekend.
“People are happy to be here. They’re happy to donate,” said Christi Nuding, who helped plan the blood drive and establish a Moms Demand Action group in Salina.
Out of the 21 slots available to sign up and donate blood, all were filled.
Nuding said the Salina Moms Demand Action group wants background checks on every gun sold and focuses on bringing awareness to safer gun storage.
Moms Demand Action volunteers have teamed up with the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund to provide Be SMART, a program dedicated to educating adults on child gun deaths and proper gun storage.
The Salina League of Women Voters set up a table at the blood drive to help people register to vote in hopes more people will vote on gun-related legislation.
The blood drive in Wichita on Friday saw a similar community response. Tyndell, who helped organize the blood drive in Wichita, said they had to add additional appointments for people to donate blood. She estimated 30 people were either scheduled to donate or walked in to donate.
“Everybody here has had smiles on their face, and they’re enthusiastic about the cause,” Tyndell said. “But that being said, I’ve also talked to a lot of people that are just fed up with mass shootings and the lack of courage on the part of lawmakers to do something to make our community safer.”
In addition to these blood drives, Sherri Spare of Parsons organized a book drive for children connected to Labette Mental Health Center as a part of the Wear Orange weekend events.
Spare, who is a volunteer for the Rural Kansas Moms Demand Action group and leader of the two-day-old Parsons Moms Demand Action group, spread the word via Facebook about her book drive.
“It’s been tremendous, a tremendous response,” Spare said. “I had to move a car out of the garage, and half of the garage is full of books.”
Spare said people have dropped books off on her porch, while others from out of town have shipped books to her through Amazon. She estimates 300 to 500 books have been donated.
Spare, who says books are her life, is a former teacher and nationally certified in literacy. Her goal for this book drive is to put books in the hands of families, where parents can read to their children and form connections. She believes mass shootings are because of “a lack of love.”
“It’s like, we’ve got to talk to each other, and not just take action and shoot people,” Spare said. “I’ve been working with early childhood, younger kids. … It’s got to start at the beginning. Let’s give these kids language skills, and help them be better students, and help them express themselves.”
Spare alluded to the alleged bullying of the Uvalde, Texas, mass shooter, Salvador Rolando Ramos, and how Michael Louis, who recently committed a mass shooting at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, did not use his words.
Spare hopes to wrap up the book drive this weekend and begin handing out the books early next week.
Because of the dramatic increase in women signing up to join Kansas Moms Demand Action, Spare is now organizing the start of the Parsons Moms Demand Action. Before this, Spare was a part of the Rural Kansas Moms Demand Action group, where moms from rural parts of Kansas meet virtually over Zoom.
“I love that group,” Spare said about the rural chapter. “The other day when it was the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, we could talk to each other. Just to have that sisterhood and share that pain and have that safe space.”
Enough moms from Independence also signed up to create their own group. Spare said the establishment of the Independence Moms Demand Action group took place before her eyes during the Rural Moms Demand Action Zoom on Thursday.
Wear Orange events carry into the weekend across the state of Kansas. On Saturday there is a donation drive at the Bonner Springs farmers market from 8 a.m. until noon and a donation drive for The Crisis Center at Triangle Park in Manhattan. Also on Saturday, there is a toiletry and medicine cabinet drive at South Park in Lawrence for the Willow Domestic Violence Center. The Kansas City, Kansas, City Hall will be lit up orange on Saturday night.
Information about Wear Orange events are available on the Moms Demand Action website.