JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 9, 2005 – Nathan Michael was sitting in the commons of the men’s dormitory when a call came in from West Jackson Baptist Church, which was serving as a local Red Cross shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
They needed Spanish translators, so Michael, a senior Spanish major from Bloomington, Ill., quickly offered his services.
“When we got there it turned out there weren’t as many translating opportunities as we thought,” Michael said. “So we kind of dove in and helped with what we could.”
Michael is just one of roughly 200 Union University students who have volunteered in some way over the past week to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Some have donated food or supplies. Others helped collect donations from the Jackson community. Still others, like Michael, have volunteered to work at the local shelter -- visiting with people, unloading trucks and sorting supplies.
“I talked to a trucker from Mississippi. I talked to several families from New Orleans. I talked to kid from Baton Rouge,” Michael said. “I realized that anyone can be put in this situation. I just saw how much was taken away, and I saw how even though I was there helping, how little I could do. I can’t give them back my house. But I can be there and I can listen. And a lot of times, people just want someone to talk to.”
Landon Preston, a junior from Fort Worth, Texas, has been one of the leaders to organize the efforts of Union students. Andy Robinette, a junior from Lexington, Ky., has also been heavily involved.
“I know that these people are coming in and to me it’s an issue of what kind of people are they going to meet when they get here?” Preston said. “I want them to meet Christians, the body of Christ with arms wide open. That’s been my motivation and my drive. I know this is a way of serving people and introducing them to the God that I serve.”
A week ago, Preston and Robinette spearheaded a “fill the truck” project on campus. Students, faculty and staff brought food and other supplies for hurricane victims and filled three truckloads. The project was so successful that another one was held Sept. 9.
Preston likened what he saw from the students to Jesus’ parable of the widow’s mite.
“It’s cool to see students giving out of what they have,” Preston said. “Students are, in a sense, just emptying out their pantries.”
The next day, 150 Union students spent a Saturday morning canvassing residential communities in north Jackson, passing out bags and asking for donations. Two days later, they returned and collected the supplies.
Ashton Bruce, a sophomore from Springfield, Tenn., said her team encountered an elderly man who was about to start some yard work.
“He was very, very grateful for the fact that we had come over,” Bruce said.
He had just bought groceries the day before specifically to donate to the hurricane victims.
“It was just a sweet time,” Bruce said. “He had such a sweet spirit. The community was very receptive.”
The community drive initiated by the Union students raised 13 additional truckloads of food and supplies, all of which the students delivered and unloaded for the Red Cross.
While food and supplies are still needed – the students were holding another “fill the truck” day Sept. 9 – Preston said the most pressing need was volunteers to help the Red Cross.
Preston said he knows of at least 40 students who have volunteered at the Red Cross Shelter at West Jackson Baptist Church. Some helped unpack supplies. Others, like Michael, played with children and talked to families.
“It was great for me because it gave me a sense of accomplishment, but more importantly, I got to see people and talk to people that I wouldn’t usually,” Michael said. “It was good. We’re so blessed with this campus and the professors we have and the places we live. We don’t even think that people are out there with nothing.”