Lending a hand

Published 9:29 am Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Looking for a way to help those in the tornado-ravaged area of Hattiesburg, Miss., home to the University of Southern Mississippi, members of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Franklinton organized a Donation Celebration.

The event was held on a sunny Sunday afternoon outside the Christian Life Center.

The effort got under way as church member Tammy Magruder saw news coverage of the destruction last Sunday night. The church congregation includes several USM students, and she phoned the mother of one of those students to ask about organizing a relief effort.

Magruder said she called some friends to find out if they would like to help get everything together, and she spoke with Hillcrest’s pastor, the Rev. Andrew Voss, about if he thought it would be feasible for the church to host the event. Voss was on board, offering the use of the grounds as a place to accept donations and the church bus as a way to deliver items, in addition to help with loading supplies.

Hillcrest, Magruder said, is a “very mission-minded church” and is responsive when needs arise.

People in Hattiesburg posted online about items that were needed, and Magruder and others began emailing, putting flyers together and searching for those who wanted to participate. She said the group got the word out over the course of the week, in large part through social media.

“By the time you use Facebook and Internet and you text and email everybody, we had a great response,” she said. “Lots of people wanted to know what to bring.”

Magruder said everyone she talked to was anxious to help.

Flyers were also distributed to local schools, hospitals, businesses, government offices and other organizations, letting people know that things such as nonperishable food items, lawn bags, trash bags, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and baby supplies were sought.

The effort was brought about in partnership with First Baptist Church of the hard-hit Petal, Miss., located just outside Hattiesburg. The church let the Hillcrest group know what specific supplies were needed, Magruder said.

Donations were accepted from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Several people also made cash donations, which Magruder said will be a help since the Petal church is trying to feed people and buy supplies there.

Magruder said there was a good response, with donors coming from a variety of locations and several different churches. Some local officials also stopped by to make donations, she said.

“We’re just glad to have the opportunity to do something to help them,” she said. “We’ve been there, and we’ve had people come and help.”

The USM mascot, Seymour the Golden Eagle, was on hand to greet and thank participants. His participation was arranged though a church connection, and special permission for him to take part was granted by the USM athletic department, Magruder said.

Seymour, Magruder said, was great. He went around to each Bible study class earlier that morning to encourage participation and took pictures with kids during the event.

Displayed on the side of the Hillcrest bus all afternoon was a large banner that read, “Get well soon, MS. Prayers and love from Franklinton, LA.” As they dropped off their donations, many people took a moment to sign the banner — created by the Bowling Green School cheerleaders — and wish the residents of the Hattiesburg area well.

There was a large showing of volunteers, including both church members and USM alumni, Magruder said.

Items were packed into the church bus throughout the day and then delivered to Mississippi after the Donation Celebration wrapped up. First Baptist Church of Petal accepted the donations and will be dispersing the items.

“They were really grateful, and they’re going to be there to meet us today,” Magruder said on Sunday afternoon.

The banner will go up in the First Baptist Church gym, where the items are being stored, Magruder said.

Among those providing assistance during the Donation Celebration was Christi Brown, a USM alumna. Hattiesburg, she said, is a tight-knit community whose residents are always willing to help others. There are many graduates of the university in Washington Parish and many people with parish ties living in the area of Hattiesburg, she said.

“It’s the least we could do to help them,” she said.