Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Volunteers converge on St. Matthias

Within two hours of St. Matthias Episcopal Church on Skyland Boulevard opening up as a headquarters for volunteer coordination in Tuscaloosa to help with disaster relief efforts in the wake of an EF-5 tornado, 745 people came out to lend a hand. Mobilization Chair Nancy Green said 45 congregations and 13 denominations came together under the name Compassion Coalition.

“This is a group to organize spontaneous volunteers, people who have not necessarily been trained,” Compassion Coalition Vice President Betty Hust said. “One of the biggest things we need is debris pickup. But we also have chainsaw crews, medical aid crews, transportation groups and organizational crews.”

St. Mathias is accepting cash and food donations, especially bottled water. Thursday’s volunteers included Gene Stallings and many University of Alabama students, Green said.

“The steady output of volunteers is hopefully good for the community,” Green said. “I feel our community is greatly blessed in talent, resources and people. We are very sorry for the people who have been impacted.”

J.T. Summerford, a junior majoring in accounting, said he couldn’t believe the sheer amount of destruction that swept his hometown.

“I came out to volunteer today just to help people, after all this,” he said. “I don’t even recognize 15th Street anymore. Hokkaido, Mike & Eds … they’re all gone.”

Other student volunteers mourn the losses of their favorites including Chuck E Cheese, Full Moon Barbecue and Summer Snow.

“We live in Forest Lake, and we decided to come volunteer because our whole neighborhood is completely ruined,” said Jackie Dean, a junior majoring in political science, who came to St. Matthias with her friends Caroline Ellis, Catherine Enos and Caroline Hoy. “Our house is the only one untouched. We got really lucky, so we just wanted to do what we could to help out.”

Hoy said the four of them waited out the storm in the basement of Gorgas Library, which was packed with people. Their fourth roommate, however, was in the house during the tornado.

“She said the house was shaking, and her ears were popping,” Hoy said. “She said she thought she was going to die.”

Ellis said the houses are completely flat two blocks down the street, and they can now see Home Depot from their house.

“We know of one girl who was swooped up from her house on Hargrove and died,” Enos said. “Things are not recognizable anywhere. It’s like an eerie feeling, like the movie Twister or something.”

The girls said they were going to the Student Recreation Center to charge their phones, because there is no power at their home or at the homes of any of their friends’.

“I was staying at the fraternity house when the tornado hit,” said Matt Riley, an Alpha Tau Omega. “We saw the funnel cloud coming, and we immediately went to the Rec Center to help people for about five hours. People would come in carrying bags of clothes, a couple dogs and saying that’s all they had left.”

Riley said the whole situation is devastating, which is why he and four of his pledge brothers came to St. Matthias to do what they could to help out.

“You never think something like this would happen to you,” Riley said. “You can build restaurants and stores back, but you can’t rebuild the homes where people have lived for years. It’s all so surreal, and it’s finally starting to hit me.”

Riley said he plans to stay in town a few days until his volunteer services are no longer needed before heading home.

“Just driving down Hargrove and seeing things you pass every day being gone — things that were there less than 24 hours ago — is crazy,” said Ashley Nichols, a senior majoring in athletic training. “The pictures and magnitude don’t do this tornado justice. It’s unreal.”

Nancy Green and Betty Hust are working to organize the St. Mathias relief effort and said they will need volunteers for several weeks to come to assist the professional clean up crews and restore the city of Tuscaloosa.


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