Students organizing to give back to Hattiesburg

Adrienne Burch

An EF4 tornado struck Hattiesburg, Miss., Sunday, damaging the town and the University of Southern Mississippi campus and leaving over 60 people injured, according to a report by the Associated Press.

This is a scene all too familiar for the residents of Tuscaloosa and students at The University of Alabama. Those who lived in Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011 when a similar tornado tore through town know better than anyone the emotions being felt in Hattiesburg, Miss., during the aftermath of Sunday’s storms.

These emotions are what led freshman Michael McFillin to want to take action to aid those being affected in Hattiesburg, Miss. McFillin, who has grown up visiting Tuscaloosa, was watching the news of the destruction on his TV Sunday night and was immediately reminded of when the April 27, 2011 tornado tore through his beloved Tuscaloosa.

“Tuscaloosa has been important to my life since the day I was born,” McFillin said. “I can’t let them go through what happened to us.”

McSillin immediately started calling around to different UA student leaders. He got in touch with Paige Bussanich, director of civic engagement for the UA Community Service Center, and she agreed to help organize a relief effort just hours after the storm hit in southern Mississippi.

“I just remember how it felt, I remember what it was like, and I want to give back,” Bussanich said. “Students from Southern Miss came to help us two years ago and now it’s time to return the favor for them.”

Bussanich and the CSC are collecting gift cards to send to the Office of Community Service Learning at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“We thought gift cards would be an easy way to donate,” she said. “People will be able to get whatever they need at Walmart, Target or even Home Depot,” she said.

The CSC is asking students and anyone interested in helping to bring gift cards of no more than $25 to the CSC office in room 346 in the Ferguson Center.

Bussanich said students can give as much as they want, but to easily distribute the funds equally they want to limit each card to $25.

Wahnee Sherman, director of the CSC, said she also wants to urge students not to rush down to Hattiesburg, Miss., to try to help.

“What we learned from our tornado is that they need a few days or weeks to get settled and to give them time to do search and rescue,” Sherman said.

Sherman said the UA CSC has already reached out to the OCSL at Southern Miss, and they are waiting for them to set up a time frame to send a team of UA students to help with recovery.

“We have a strong relationship,” Sherman said. “They’ll be back in touch.”

Bussanich said they hope to plan this trip for sometime in early March. But, Sherman encouraged students to focus on collecting the gift cards to send to victims of the tornado right now.

“I think our students understand what the needs in a community affected by a natural disaster can be,” she said. “We need to return the favor.”

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