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Univ. students say ‘thanks’ to community during day of service

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Union University student Sarah Orr didn’t think there would be enough food for the Thanksgiving baskets being filled at the Regional Inter-Faith Association’s food warehouse.

When almost 600 pounds of it arrived shortly thereafter, she was thrilled.

“We were getting ready to make thanksgiving baskets and there wasn’t enough food. Then these guys showed up and I think we’re going to be able to use it all,” said Orr, a senior at Union University. “God has answered a lot of prayers today.”

Orr was the team leader for one of more than 60 teams sent out from Union University as a part of the second-annual Day of Remembrance in early November. Just minutes before, another team had arrived with 594 pounds of donated food, the results of a food drive by the Union psychology department that was done in conjunction with the Day of Remembrance.

The workers at the Regional Inter-Faith Association (RIFA) were thankful for more than just the food.

“If they weren’t here, I or a couple others of us would have to do it and it would take a lot of time and take us away from the weekly things we do,” Sarah Coker, a RIFA employee, said of the team’s work. “So it’s a big help. They’re organizing and putting things where they need to go.”

All across Jackson, Tenn., similar stories were unfolding. Over 1,000 students, faculty and staff took advantage of the opportunities set up by campus ministries, student life and a group of dedicated team leaders.

“We have amazing team leaders that have been great at motivating their groups and getting people involved,” said Kimberly Thornbury, dean of students. “It truly shows how leadership is being a servant.”

Day of Remembrance is Union’s way of giving back to the community for its assistance after a tornado hit the campus Nov. 10, 2002, causing more than $2 million in damage. Short of a few science classes, classes were suspended for the day to allow students and faculty to become wholly involved in service projects.

“The Day of Remembrance is a significant event for the Union University community,” said Suzanne Mosley, Union’s director of student outreach. “On Nov. 10, 2002, the community of Jackson reached out and assisted us amidst the crisis of the tornado that hit our campus. The Day of Remembrance is a time for us to say thank you to the community of Jackson for all that they have done for us in the days, weeks and months following the tornado.”

When the day began with a special chapel service at 8:30 a.m., more than 300 students were already hard at work. Some had already entered community schools to tutor students and aid teachers. Others were on the road heading to destinations like Shiloh National Military Park, where Phi Alpha Theta members worked in the cemetery.

“What you do today will matter deeply to someone — even if you are working on campus,” said Union provost Carla Sanderson as she addressed the chapel crowd.

At 9 a.m. the service closed with a prayer and teams dispersed to classrooms where they filled out release forms and gathered lunches. Most groups arrived on their sites at 9:30 a.m. and worked there until the early afternoon.

“What they are doing today would take my husband and I at least a week or two and they’re doing it in a day,” Cathy Quinn of the Salvation Army said. “They’re working faster than I know where to put stuff.”

“We’re here to serve,” said senior Gary Snuffin, team leader at the Salvation Army project. “We’re going to have [the shed] emptied and put where it needs to go.”

At noon, the shed was already empty, its contents spread across the immediate area of the Salvation Army’s parking lot to be sorted and taken into the newly renovated building.

A few miles away another team was at work doing simple outdoor maintenance at BirthChoice, clearing up leaves and washing windows and walls.

“We are doing the dirty work so BirthChoice doesn’t have to,” senior Adam Winters said. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re the real heroes. If we can come out and do some simple things for them I feel good.”

Another team member at the site agreed with Winters.

“My wife and I have supported this ministry on and off over the years,” math professor Brian Dawson said. “It was a natural choice. Saving lives, helping people, it’s a good ministry to help with.”

Of course, the university’s hope is that ministry through service will not wait until the next Day of Remembrance, but continue all year long.

“We’re very thankful to the agencies and school systems that allow us to serve,” Thornbury said. “We hope that exposure to these agencies will spur students to get involved long-term. They say they love our one day of service, but they’re always talking about how they need help long-term.”

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  • Alaina Kraus