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Bethel College community mobilizes for disaster relief

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- As Bethel College students were moving into dorms and starting fall semester classes, tens of thousands of people on the Gulf Coast of the United States were in a life-and-death struggle with Hurricane Katrina and the flood that followed. Now, the Bethel community is organizing its response to the daunting human toll the hurricane took.

Most immediately, campus pastor Amy Barker encouraged everyone to pray, because, she said, "Prayer is not a last resort. Prayer is the greatest thing we do because we pray to the living God, who alone is not overwhelmed by this disaster."

Barker and several students organized a come-and-go prayer vigil in the Bethel College chapel for the week of Sept. 5-9. During the same week, three times a day the chapel bells or a trumpet player signaled a "moment of silence and prayer" to remember all those suffering on the Gulf Coast. Prayer vigils will continue less frequently in subsequent weeks.

Faculty, staff and students have formed the Bethel Emergency Response Team, the first action of which was to organize a collection of money for hurricane relief in the lunch line for several days. As of Sept. 9, about $2,500 had been raised.

Anyone from the community may donate money through the Bethel College business office, with checks made out to Mennonite Disaster Service or the American Red Cross. Receipts are available.

BERT is also coordinating several activities for the weekend of Sept. 9-11. On Friday evening, Sept. 9, there will be a student and faculty talent show, Bethel Unplugged, in Krehbiel Auditorium from 7-8:30. There is no charge, but people are asked to bring items for hurricane relief, and a free-will offering will be taken.

Barker emphasized that the need right now, in addition to money, is for supplies for infants (diapers, formula, baby food), bottled water, sports drinks and juices in boxes or plastic bottles, and non-perishable, ready-to-eat food items in non-breakable packaging.

There will be collection points at Saturday’s home football game vs. Southwestern College--the first football game in Bethel’s new sports complex--for donated items, as well as collection of funds during the third quarter.

Finally, Food Service director Randy Hare is organizing a community meal for Sunday noon (11:30-3) in the college cafeteria, located in Schultz Student Center. Several of Hare’s colleagues from Wichita restaurants will be supplying food and a number of his employees are volunteering their services. There will be a $10 charge per plate for the fried chicken meal, with all proceeds going to hurricane relief.

"Food is a way to celebrate and to give back to the community," Hare said. "People want to do something in response to the disaster. I can see this being the first of several fund-raising meals."

For the longer term, the college has temporarily "adopted" a group of adults with special needs from Picayune, Miss., who fled the hurricane with two staff people and ended up in Halstead. The group is from an assisted living facility that is part of St. Francis Academy, Inc., headquartered in Salina.

Three students offered to take charge of hosting the group for the noon meal in the cafeteria each day and organizing socialization activities for them. Some of the money raised on campus may go to help pay for food, lodging and gasoline for the group.

Also, the overwhelming needs left in the hurricane’s wake have revitalized two student groups, Student Community Action Network and Service Corps. Service Corps members will be available to collect and sort donations and take the free-will offerings at the talent show and the Sept. 10 football game, and to help with the fundraising meal.

Other plans, such as hosting displaced college students from the Gulf Coast region or taking a work group to the affected area to help with direct relief efforts, are still in process.

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