Students raise money to help Katrina victims and families

By Joel Lanceta

Images of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of the Gulf Coast strewn all over the media—the flooding of New Orleans, the trapped survivors, the evacuations—were too painful for many University students to watch. But instead of feeling helpless, students returned to campus energized and inspired to help the hurricane victims.

The University Community Service Center held forums last Thursday and Friday for students interested in spearheading relief projects for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including organizing clothes and food drives and fundraisers.

One such project goes by the motto that every penny counts. “Pennies from Heaven,” a weeklong coin drive which kicked off yesterday, will tap the competition between all 38 houses in the College to get as many of the 2,400 students in housing involved and opening their pockets.

The goal of the event is to have each housing resident contribute $2, which will be donated to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. The house that raises the most money wins a study break catered by the Snail. The project’s founder, Anjali Gera, a second-year in the College and resident of Hoover House, brought the idea to Undergraduate Housing, which supported the event.

“I had started the planning of a coin drive before Katrina hit; it was going to be a fundraiser with no specific cause,” Gera said. “But after the hurricane hit, I knew it would be the right thing to do.”

Gera returned to campus a few days before housing was open to start planning. She said that the volunteer list has since grown to more than 100 in housing alone, with additional support and sponsorship being offered by the Inter-House Council and Bank One.

Gera attributed her inspiration for “Pennies from Heaven” to her participation in SkyScraper Challenge (SSC), which raised $22,000 last spring for tsunami relief through a massive stair-climb at the Sears Tower, and to its chair, David Clayman, a third-year in the College. SSC has now begun work on another charity stair-climb for hurricane relief, having met with several campus groups, including Habitat for Humanity, Soul Umoja, and Jewish Acting, to mobilize campus volunteers and plan charitable events for hurricane victims.

“We’ve just finished drafting our proposal for skyscrapers in the Chicago area,” said Christian Brockman, a second-year in the College and the co-chair of SCC. “We’re focusing on the Sears Tower, the AON Center, and the Hancock Building. All proceeds from the 2006 SkyScraper Challenge will be devoted to hurricane relief.”

Alpha Delta Phi held a Hurricane Relief Effort party last Friday night. The frat, experiencing a 50 percent increase in attendees with 450 people, raised approximately $1,000, which will be donated to AmeriCares, a non-profit disaster-relief and humanitarian aid organization.

Alpha Delt has previously held other fundraising parties, including one for the Tsunami Relief last winter. “Philanthropy has always been part of the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity,” said Jeremy Hetzel, the president of Alpha Delt and a fourth-year in the College. “After the success of our Tsunami Relief party last January, the brotherhood was naturally inclined to host a similar event for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.” Hetzel described how one brother, Brandon Bourgeois, a third-year in the College, helped his family in Houston care for 15 refugees in his own home.

Doc Films held a special screening of A Streetcar Named Desire, a quintessential Big Easy film, last Wednesday, with all proceeds going to hurricane relief. According to Alyssa Bernal, a member of the U of C Red Cross, who worked with Doc to promote the event, both the University and the Hospitals matched the $570.50 raised during the screening, bringing the proceeds to a total of $1,712.

A book-bag and backpack collection for displaced students is another hurricane fundraiser in Hyde Park. Dina Weinstein, president of the Friends of Blackstone Branch Library and a project assistant for Committee on Developmental Biology at the BSD, came up with the idea after having leftover backpacks donated to the library from the Alderman’s office. After talking with the Blackstone Branch Library and the Chicago Public Libraries, Weinstein organized the backpack drive, using the Hyde Park Co-Op as a drop-off site.

“When I sent an e-mail to the (Friends of Libraries USA) listserv offering the backpacks, I got six responses from Louisiana Parish Libraries and the Houston Public Library,” Weinstein said. “They were telling me that they had hundreds of kids enrolling in their local schools, living in shelters, or doubling and tripling up in people’s houses. I thought those kids needed the school supplies more than Hyde Parkers.” Weinstein said that she was discontinuing the project, but would be receptive to a student group taking it up with her help.

For many of the volunteers involved, the generosity and support that the University is showing to the hurricane victims is overwhelming. “I think we have had a strong response to Katrina and to fundraisers like ‘Pennies from Heaven,'” Gera said. “I hope that there is a good unity of people that will sponsor more Katrina events; that we all will be able to respond to helping disasters. I hope it just doesn’t stop.”