A chance conversation with a carpet installer at the Bren Events Center led Bernadette Strobel-Lopez, the facility’s coordinator, to organize a last-minute, yet very successful three-day donation drive for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, on Sept. 7. The drive was held at the Bren and there were enough donations to fill a freight truck and several cars. The boxes were filled with supplies such as clothing, toiletries and flashlights.
‘One of the individuals who installs carpets was here and we got to talking,’ Strobel-Lopez explained. She soon found out that the carpet-installer had two houses in Mississippi which were completely destroyed, and also that there are 4,000 to 5,000 people who were affected by Hurricane Katrina living in a Wal-Mart parking lot in the Waveland, Miss. area.
‘All of the attention was being focused on New Orleans,’ Strobel-Lopez said. ‘People in [Mississippi] weren’t getting what they needed.’ Strobel-Lopez sent out an e-mail asking for help and donations and she received an overwhelming response.
‘What’s nice about this effort is that the things are going directly to people who need them because we have someone who has a residence license,’ Strobel-Lopez said. ‘We know that things are definitely going to get there and not end up in storage some place.’
In addition to students and community members donating hundreds of items, Strobel-Lopez expressed gratitude toward those who donated their time and effort. Many students who happened to pass by offered a much-needed helping hand by carrying and organizing boxes.
Mercedes Manning, a third-year drama major, works at the Bren Events Center and volunteered for the drive.
‘There’s this human-to-human responsibility. I think we, who are better off, owe it to those whose lives have been completely devastated,’ Manning said. ‘As students it’s kind of tough because we may not have as much money or as much to give, but donating time is just as important.’
Even though students may feel powerless to help in such an overwhelming situation such as Hurricane Katrina, students like Manning demonstrate that there are plenty of ways to help besides donating money or belongings.
Besides volunteering time, Manning said that raising awareness of the situation is important as well as educating ourselves about the reality of Hurricane Katrina instead of simply believing everything that the media is broadcasting.
As Strobel-Lopez and Manning sifted through some of the donations, they placed some items such as a decorative mirror and house lamp aside.
‘These people don’t even have electricity,’ Strobel-Lopez said. ‘Some of the things are sent to Goodwill because the people affected by the hurricane can’t use them.’
It isn’t only Strobel-Lopez and Manning’s enthusiasm that emphasizes the importance of helping. Students who work at the UCI Volunteer Center understand the effects of volunteer work not only on one’s community, but on the volunteers themselves.
Henry Snowden, a third-year criminology, law and society major works for the UCI Volunteer Center.
‘Volunteering gets people involved in their community,’ Snowden said. ‘It’s good for an individual personally and academically.’ Snowden also said that he and his friends are organizing a trip to the Louisiana area in the near future.
Edgar Dormitorio, director of the UCI Volunteer Center, explained that UCI has teamed up with organizations such as Giving Children Hope in order to help the victims of the hurricane. There has also been discussion of possible events during the school year.
‘There has been a lot of talk about students trying to figure out what they can do once the school year starts,’ Dormitorio said. ‘One of the programs through the Volunteer Center in partnership with Health Education and Campus Recreation is called the Alternative Spring Break Program. Currently, we’re talking about what we can do during spring break and going to the affected area with the relief and rebuilding effort.’
Dormitorio also expressed concern about the federal aid response to the hurricane.
‘It’s unfortunate that the immediate response was so late,’ Dormitorio said. ‘But it’s nice to see that a lot of local organizations are helping out. I think it’s great that folks are really stepping up. We are really excited to see how the campus is going to respond to it once the school year gets started.’
Information about helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina is available at http://www.volunteer.uci.edu/.