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IU Kokomo students join in tornado relief effort

November 20, 2013
KOKOMO, Ind. — It is just a cup of coffee.

tornado-emilyEmily West hands out coffee. Photo provided by Emily West.

But for Emily West, that steaming paper cup is her way to help the city that has given her so much, after Sunday's tornado left devastation in its wake. She was compelled to do something, rather than stay in her own home, which was undamaged.

"I felt my time would be better put to use helping people who had no help," she said. "Here I was with my power on, and a roof over my head, and I wanted to help those who didn't have that. Kokomo has given me everything; a place to start my life, and it was time for me to give back."

West and fellow Indiana University Kokomo students Megan Riley and Dereck Pearson handed out cups of coffee to those whose homes were damaged or destroyed, and to the hundreds of volunteers working to clean up and rebuild.

"They were so grateful even for the smallest thing, like a cup of coffee," West said. "It was so comforting to them. This has definitely shown me the power of community. It is humbling and eye opening to see the place you call home, pull together in the face of disaster."

West was one of the many IU Kokomo students providing a helping hand after Sunday's tornadoes. With classes canceled Monday because of a campus power outage, student volunteers hauled debris to waiting dump trucks, swept away broken glass, read to children at the American Red Cross shelter, and comforted those whose homes lay in ruins.

Members of the Saudi Student Club quickly organized to help wherever they were needed.

"These are our neighbors whose homes were damaged, whose businesses were damaged," said Talal Al-Hammad, one of the Master of Business Administration students from Saudi Arabia. "We feel like this is our community, and we want to be of service in any way we can. We helped people salvage good items from their homes, and clear away what could not be saved."

They were shocked by the devastation, because their home country does not have tornadoes, and none of them had seen one before Sunday. He was glad they could do something, and noted that both the Bible and the Koran speak to the importance of helping one another.

"We are all human beings, with no difference between races, colors, or religions, when these disasters occur," he said. "There was a call, and we answered that call to help our neighbors."

One homeowner asked them where they were from, and when he heard they were from Saudi Arabia, asked why they were there. Club members told him they were IU Kokomo students, giving back to the community.

The man looked to the sky and said, "Thank you God," and told them he was glad they were there.

"We were pleased with the reaction," Al-Hammad said.

They also helped a fellow M.B.A. student, Brandon Driscoll, clean up storm damage at his Kokomo home.

LeeAnn Cook, Martinsville, was relieved when her apartment escaped damage in the tornado, and felt compelled to do something to help those in her adopted hometown who were not so lucky.

"Kokomo feels like home," she said. "I've never experienced this level of devastation, and I can't imagine what these people are going through. So many people have helped me while I've been here, and now it's my turn to reach out and give a hand."

She organized members of the Enactus business student organization and Phi Sigma Sigma sorority to help clean up around Hoffer Street and Home Avenue, loading debris into city dump trucks. She was touched by the response, with hundreds of volunteers working, and other people driving in to bring food and coffee.

Cook said volunteering was just the right thing to do, and she plans to offer her assistance again.

"Everyone is so appreciative of all the help," she said. "If that was my family's home destroyed, I would hope anyone who is willing and able would do what they could to help them."

Sorority members used proceeds from a recent auction to provide lunch for those staying in the Red Cross Shelter Monday, and purchased toiletries for people who lost their homes.

Chapter Archon Jessica Hatt, Kokomo, said helping with disaster relief is a way members can live their tenants of leadership and service to others.

"This is our community," she said. "This is where we live, and work, and play, this is where our families live. Everyone in our community is affected."

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 09/09/2014