Gail Hairston

UK's Heart Goes Out to Neighbors

Published: Mar 7, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 7, 2012) -- As the horrific images of the devastation to Kentucky life and property from Friday’s tornadoes and strong thunderstorms flickered across television and computer screens throughout Kentucky over the weekend, the hearts of University of Kentucky students, faculty and staff went out to family, friends and strangers.


UK telephones, emails and social media were buzzing with one question Monday morning: What can I do to help?


That question is gradually being answered as the campus community mobilizes itself to respond to the obvious needs of fellow Kentuckians.


Finding a way to help was a very personal struggle for Blair Helwig, a UK junior in broadcast journalism who was interning in the WKYT newsroom Friday afternoon. Helwig is from West Liberty, her father (Steve Helwig) is still a resident of the Morgan County community.


"During the storm, people didn't know what to expect," said Helwig. "But while I was working in the (WKYT) newsroom all I could think about was my dad. The power outage left him without a television and warning. I continued to text him and update him with any information I knew. The last text he recieved from me read, 'Dad it's literally headed your way.' "


That was the last she heard from her father for two agonizing hours. "There was no cell service, but he finally got a text message through to me, two hours after" the tornado struck near his home, not in its immediate path. 

"My dad was very fortunate the tornado did not directly cross his path. After delivering supplies to him this weekend and seeing all the people without homes, it really motivated me to get a donation drive started at UK," she said. She turned to "my UK family," her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, for help.


Helwig and sorority sister Madison Shoffner visited other Greek houses on Monday, distributing a list of desperately needed items, including towels, socks, underwear, baby wipes, all sizes of plastic storage tubs (for the victims' belongings), tampons and other personal products, hygiene products like deodorant and toothpaste, batteries, flashlights and non-perishable food items. The volunteers ask anyone with these items to drop them at the Alpha Delta Pi house, at the corner of Rose and Columbia, through Saturday, March 10. Donations will go to the West Liberty Elementary School where storm victims are sheltering. For more information, email Blair Helwig at


Students in the Robinson Scholars Program were among UK’s first responders; many of them have family and friends whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed in seconds Friday afternoon. The Robinson Scholars office at 217 Funkhouser is beginning to fill up with canned goods and other supplies destined for three storm-ravaged communities in Eastern Kentucky, West Liberty in Morgan County, Magoffin County and Breathitt County. The Appalachian Center, 624 Maxwelton Court, is acting as an additional collection station of much-needed supplies.


The Robinson Scholars, taking advantage of extended family networks, will distribute its supply of canned goods this week in and around West Liberty. Donations will be distributed next week by the Appalachian Center during UK’s spring break service-learning course, previously scheduled in Breathitt and Magoffin counties. Any canned foods and cleaning supplies donated at the center will be delivered to the Burning Fork Community Church in Magoffin County. Suggested items include apples, packaged snacks, bottled water, canned meat and cleaning supplies.


“These communities will require a long-term commitment from all of us. Many of the residents are either uninsured or underinsured. They will need our help to rebuild for a long, long time,” said Ann Kingsolver, director of the Appalachian Center and the Appalachian Studies program.


Once the injured are tended, once the damages are assessed, once the shock has faded, that’s when the real work of disaster recovery begins -- backbreaking, heartbreaking clean-up. Members of two UK IFC fraternities, Phi Kappa Tau and Theta Chi, have family and friends in Eastern Kentucky who need help facing the next few days. So, instead of spending their precious spring break lounging on some sun-soaked tropical beach, they have chosen to spend the week manhandling chain saws and wheelbarrows to clear away tornado-strewn debris in Eastern Kentucky.


On Monday morning, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity initiated a Tornado Relief Clothing Drive through Friday, March 9. Clothing of all types, non-perishable food items and monetary donations will be accepted at the drop off location, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Cultural Center in the Student Center, directly across from UK Bookstore. Also, monetary donations will be collected outside the Student Center Starbucks from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and outside the Student Government Office in the Student Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday. The National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternity’s membership has not yet decided if they will donate the items to the Red Cross or personally drive the items to a donation site in one of the affected counties.


The UK Ag Ambassadors are holding a supply drive as well. The following items are being collected: canned food, cleaning supplies (cleaners, brooms, mops, garbage bags, disinfectant wipes, etc.), and personal hygiene products (socks, undergarments, soaps, toothcare, etc.). These items can be dropped off at N6 Ag Science North or 112 Erikson Hall. Cash donations will also be accepted.  Donations will go to the Christian Appalachian Project and a volunteer fire department in Johnson County.


“We are working with students to identify options to contribute toward relief efforts, including the incorporation of relief-based service as a part of an Alternative Break project at the David School in David, Ky., previously scheduled for spring break,” said Rhonda Strouse, student services director. “Plans are in progress at this time, but no final confirmation is available as needs are being identified by the Center for Community Outreach and site representatives at the David School in David, Ky. Our students are committed to serve as it contributes in a manner that is responsive and accommodating to the needs of those impacted.”


UK's National Pan-Hellenic Council will be taking any students who are interested in going to Morehead, Ky., on Thursday morning to help organize donations. NPHC will provide the transportation and gas. Vans will leave at 7:30 a.m. Thursday and will return by 2 p.m. Students may register to go by completing the form at If transportation is not available for everyone, you will be notified by Wednesday at 8 p.m.


Panhellenic will be doing a “goods” collection at their Fashion Show on Sunday, March 26, in the Frank Harris Grand Ballroom of the Student Center.


Members of the Student National Pharmacy Association are accepting monetary donations, as well as items to donate to the Christian Appalachian Project. Particularly needed items include work gloves, tarps, personal hygiene products, canned food, baby food, baby formula, diapers, batteries, flashlights, lighters, matches, candles, disposable plates and cleaning products. The students will be taking the items to the Christian Appalachian Project’s collection truck at Walmart in Hamburg for distribution in storm-ravaged areas. For more information, contact Alisa M. Jackson at .


The UK Staff Senate is facilitating an opportunity for staff and faculty to help those affected by last week’s storms. Staff senators will be collecting donations for tornado victims at their monthly meeting on Thursday, March 8, from 1-3:30 p.m. in the William T. Young Library. Anyone can drop by with a donation, or they can contact their area’s senator to coordinate delivery of a donation. (A list of current senators is available on the Staff Senate website.). Staff or faculty may also contact Staff Senate secretary Misty Dotson at or 433 -3397, if donated items need to be picked up from a work area. Items specifically needed include cleaning products, canned food, non-perishable foods, diapers, diaper rash cream, pull ups, adult diapers, baby clothes, nursery water, baby formula, batteries, flashlights and pet food.


UK men's basketball Coach John Calipari is joining the Kentucky Cares fundraising effort for the Red Cross to assist residents of the tornado stricken areas of the state.  During Friday's Southeastern Conference Tournament games broadcast on WKYT-TV, Kentucky Cares volunteer operators will take telephone pledges from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST. 


Starting at 10 a.m. Friday, the first five callers to each match the $10,000 donation that Coach Calipari and his wife Ellen have already made to the effort will join the Caliparis for lunch and a personal tour of the new Wildcat Coal Lodge.  UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and his wife Connie will join the group for lunch.  The lunch and tour will include the donor and one guest, and the date for the event must be agreed upon by all five parties.


Donations of any size are welcomed throughout the day. The $10,000 matching donation only applies to the tour and lunch with Coach Calipari.


There are many ways beyond the campus community to help:

  • To donate $10, text Redcross at 90999
  • Visit and click Disaster Relief Fund
  • Donate at any Central Bank location
  • Mail a check to 1450 Newtown Pike, Lexington, KY 40511 with “Kentucky Cares” in the memo line.
  • Call 1-800-redcross.
  • visit the Kentucky Emergency Management website to volunteer or donate,


Some people must first take care of themselves before they can help others. UK students who have been affected by the recent tornadoes and storms are invited to seek support at the Counseling Center. Staff members at the Counseling Center are available to help students deal with shock, grief, anxiety and other reactions related to the recent storms. If you, your family, and/or your community are victims of the storms, please know that you may walk in to speak to a counselor, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or you may schedule an appointment by calling (859) 257-8701. Counseling Center services are free to students. The Counseling Center is located in 201 Frazee Hall, which is situated next to the Student Center, near Administration Drive. For more information, visit



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