Southern Arkansas University faculty, staff and students are working to provide relief to residents of Texas stricken by Hurricane Harvey and others affected by recent disasters.
SAU is showing its caring spirit by putting together a response to the flooding in Houston and surrounding areas. “Helping Hands for Houston” is an initiative that connects the University with students, families of students, alumni and many more people who in some way need help.
Deana Taylor, campus and community welfare coordinator, said the idea for the initiative “began with Houston but Irma has come along and so we are interested in helping those people as well those affected by disaster in other areas.”
She said Helping Hands for Houston is still in its beginning stages and that a fund has been established for anyone who wants to donate money to the relief effort.
“It’s called SAU Disaster Relief Assistance and your donation can be earmarked for the relief agency of your choice,” Taylor said. “We see ourselves as a clearinghouse for information and donation possibilities. We will send those donations on to the selected agencies.”
She said financial donations are especially useful. “It helps people meet immediate needs and assists local economies. Someone can get exactly what they need exactly when they need it, and it helps local business owners get back on their feet.”
Disaster assistance will be a continuing project on campus, she said. Dr. Trey Berry, president of SAU, has said that relief for hurricane victims in Houston and surrounding areas must continue through Christmas and beyond.
There are many different ways people can help. “Children, for example, need books, games and toys to keep them occupied,” she said. “FEMA is putting families up in hotels and motels but the children have nothing to do.”
SAU’s collections will be targeted to specific organizations and distribution points so that they will be used and sent directly where needed. Boxes and totes will soon be available for collections in Overstreet Hall, and ongoing disaster relief efforts will provide collection opportunities for student organizations.
“One thing we’ve talked about is a Helping Hands race on the mall, in which all student organizations may participate to collect items for donation,” she said.
Many students have gotten involved in the relief effort. “I like to see students really buy in and make decisions, and they are talking about other types of collections that can be done on a continual basis.”
She said the effort to help hurricane victims is in line with SAU’s mission of helping people in need and engaging in the community. “This is a homegrown initiative.”
“It is important to stress the idea of volunteering to students, especially our freshmen, because they can start thinking about solving problems on their own,” she said.
Student volunteers assembled flood buckets to be disseminated to affected areas. Taylor said the flood buckets, a project of United Methodist Committee on Relief, “are a good way of jumping in and doing something tangible.”
About 17 of these cleaning kits were assembled by volunteers in Grand Hall of the Reynolds Center on Monday, Sept. 11. The buckets are put together according to a list of needed items which includes cleaning supplies, sponges, insect repellant, work gloves and dust masks. She said this was the second consecutive year SAU has participated in a flood bucket drive.
“One hundred percent of donations to UMCOR go to flood victims,” Taylor said.
Each kit costs about $65 to make. Monetary donations are accepted, and for more information, you can go to www.umcor.org.
Taylor said SAU has worked closely with Wesley Campus Ministries which served a collection point for donated cleaning kit items.
Working groups have been formed to make disaster relief possible on campus, including point people in various areas. They include Trey Beasley, Rogerio Rhynes, Alex Price and Cledis Stuart, overseeing the placement of boxes in every building; Breanna Wolfe and Hannah Parham, making connections with other helping organizations; Dakotah Cooper and Michael Kornegay (HHH Race); Daniel Pletcher and Vilma Espinoza, handling publicity; Pat Owen, Taylor and Brooke Williams, monetary donations; Dr. Robin Sronce and Kornegay, on planned relief trips; Sheryl Edwards and Marcela Vasconcelos, working on logistics, and Brad Stout on delivery.
Dr. Berry will be contacting other universities in the Houston area to find out about disaster relief efforts they are making so that SAU can partner with those efforts.