On Wednesday, April 27, a powerful storm system ripped through the South, generating tornadoes that destroyed homes and businesses. One of the hardest-hit areas was Tuscaloosa, Ala., hometown of 2L Lori Johnston.
As she sat glued to the news coverage of the devastation, Johnston knew she needed to do something. "I was upset that my town was destroyed and I wasn't there to help," she said. "Then God gave me the idea to try to make a difference instead of just sitting around being upset. That's how it started."
Rather than just send money to an organization already on the ground, Johnston felt strongly that she wanted to personally collect donations and then take them to Alabama. "I wanted to make sure that the donations I collected would benefit those in need. I didn't feel like making a donation to an organization and not knowing the outcome would be sufficient," she explained. "I also wanted to get back home to help out and check on family and friends. Taking the donations and personally delivering them seemed the best option."
Operating primarily through word-of-mouth, Johnston asked the Regent community to donate anything they thought would be helpful. After setting up a collection box in Regent Village, she received a variety of toiletries, diapers, clothing, towels, sheets, bags, toys, socks, pacifiers, suitcases, food, money, tarps and bungies for travel, and other miscellaneous items.
Word of her efforts spread, and Johnston received a call from Rack Room Shoes. If she was willing to take them, the chain store had 2,000 pairs of new shoes they wanted to send. "This was a huge blessing, and I appreciate their contribution so much," said Johnston. "Many people were walking around barefoot or in too-small or inadequate shoes, and their donation helped fill a great need."
A donor even gave Johnston the money she needed to rent a truck that would hold all of the donations. Finally, less than two weeks after the tornado touched down, Johnston headed home. "The devastation is unbelievable," she wrote on her blog after the trip. "You can stand on one spot, and as far as you can see on each side is rubble."
"I took some of the supplies to a donation center that is set up in the basement of my friends' home," she said, describing the setup. "The military provides tents, and they move the items to their yard during the day so the victims can come by and pick up what they need. Other supplies were taken to Soma Church [miraculously spared from the storm]. We also made a special package for a family that my daughter was friends with. They lost everything in the storm." The shoes from Rack Room were handed out at donation centers.
"I have watched Regent students reach out and help people in need overseas and locally and knew that the student body would partner with me to help Tuscaloosa," Johnston explained. "I also wanted to send a message to those back home that Regent University loved and was praying for them. I thought it may be an encouragement for them to know they are on our hearts."
- By Rachel Judy